CHS teacher Eric Rempe creates art, inspires students
Eric Rempe demonstrating how to alter and embellish a bowl on a potter's wheel.
eCoronado.com October 31, 2014 by Gloria Tierney
H.L. Mencken once observed that those who can, do, while those who can’t, teach. Eric Rempe, Coronado High School’s ceramics teacher, serves as a notable exception to this rule. In addition to being a lauded teacher, he is a ceramist whose work is exhibited around the world -- from Asia to Scandinavia -- as well as in museums and galleries across the United States.
Currently, Rempe's pieces are on display at Steinfest 2014; an online marriage of craft beer and contemporary beer steins, held by Claymakers in Durham, North Carolina. Rempe is one of 200 artists from across the nation and Canada who were invited to participate. And next month, his work will be featured in San Diego’s annual Pottery Tour.
Rempe discovered clay in high school. “The potter’s wheel allowed me to work with my hands in an incredibly different way, and I liked the idea that pots could become a part of someone else’s life,” the Lancaster, Pennsylvania native said.
Being a teacher allows him to pass that discovery on to his students. “I’m where I am today because of a high school art teacher,” he said “In teaching, I feel like I’m paying a debt to that teacher.”
Centering a lump of clay on a wheel and shaping it into an elegant form doesn’t come easy. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said Dani Rose Hill, a student of Rempe's.
Students soon learn patience and self-control along with the creativity all forms of art engender.
They also “learn for the first time in my class that they are creators,” Rempe said. “This belief can have far reaching impacts in their lives as they are challenged with problems and projects in higher education, the workplace and in their lives.”
That's just what Stefano Monzon discovered when he signed up for Rempe’s class to fulfill at graduation requirement. “You can put yourself into your work,” he said. “It lets you express yourself.” And now that he has discovered this side of himself, Monzon said he plans to take more art classes when he goes to college next year.
Rempe is the only ceramics teacher Coronado High School has ever had. He designed the school’s studio from the ground up, developed the program, and supplemented the classroom experiences with extracurricular projects, most notably participating in the nationwide Empty Bowls project.
Every spring, student bowls are sold to raise funds for the San Diego Hunger Project and Feed America San Diego. The project began at CHS in 2007 and has raised $120,000 thus far.
This annual exhibition of student work and has also contributed to clay’s popularity on campus. The popularity of Rempe's classes has grown to the point that in some of his sections, he has more students then he has pottery wheels, which means that there are days when some students have learn by watching another student working on the wheel.
Rempe tries to compensate for this shortage by letting them students use the wheels in the studio during lunch, after school, and on some weekends. He has always offered these extra sessions, he said, but they have become increasingly important since the district budget cuts took effect.
Rempe's efforts to go the extra mile for his students have not gone unnoticed. In 2003, Rempe was named a Distinguished Teacher in San Diego County.
Dani Rose Hill carving one of her pots after class
Stefano Monzon, cleaning up after spending his free time after class working at the potter's wheel
One of the most important lessons comes from the example Rempe sets as a working artist.
“There I value in this, [it's] not just some playful way to spend your time,” he said. “You can sell what you make.”
He also broadens his students’ artistic horizons by allowing outside groups to hold workshops in has classroom with the proviso that five spaces have to be reserved for his students gratis. “It gives students an opportunity to learn from the best,” he said.
In the past couple of years alone "the best" has included workshops with Sunshine Cobb, Mark Bell, Nick Joerling, and most recently, Ashley Kim.
Ceramic groups love coming to the CHS studio that Rempe was so integral in building.
“It is a beautiful, state-of-the art studio,” said Merle Lambert, president of the Clay Artists of San Diego. “It’s one that Eric can be proud of and one the students are fortunate to have.”
Each year, Rempe raises money to send three students to the Arrowmont School of Art and Craft in Tennessee. The students' tuition, room, and board are paid; students only need to pay for transportation. Rempe spends most of the school year raising money for the program, which began in 2008. The largest donations come for the local clay community: Clay Artists of San Diego, the Potter’s Guild, and Free Forum Clay and Supply.
It cost $1,000 to send one student. Early on, Rempe established the tradition of sending three students a year. “I would like to send more,” he said. “There’s always more students who want to go,” he said.
Last summer Rempe had his own Arrowmont experience. He was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Bill Griffith Fellowship. It allowed him, for the first time since becoming a full-time teacher, “to concentrate on his own work from the time he work up to the time he went to bed,” he said.
Still his time at Arrowmont wasn’t as rewarding his time CHS. “The best pot I could ever make would never make a difference in someone’s like the way that my best day of teaching could."
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