Nick Sevigney, Artist and Teacher

March, 2011

by Jennifer Philion

In an office crammed with books, pottery, and distinctive sculptures in various stages of completion—and every issue of Ceramics Monthly magazine dating back to 1976—Professor of Ceramics Nick Sevigney plays host to a bustling stream of students, visitors, and fellow faculty members.

“I love the interaction of teaching,” says Sevigney, who joined the PSU faculty in 2008. “I enjoy helping people find their artistic voice. And this is a great job where I can also make my own work.”

Sevigney in the studio. John Anderson photo.

His own work is a fascinating blend of the natural and industrial worlds, combining aspects of insects and sea creatures with man-made objects in intricate pieces that can leave a viewer wondering where the objects may have come from and when. “I want people to question what the objects are: How do they function? What is their function?”

His artwork often contains multiple parts that can move or be removed. “It’s fun to let people actually get their hands on a piece and play with it,” he says. “It’s not something you can usually do in a gallery, but I like to make things I can take apart and put back together.”

Sevigney’s style originated from his childhood on the coast of Maine. “My family was one of the crazy ones that lived on Wells Beach year-round,” he says. “I spent a lot of time playing in tide pools.”

“Then I had a great philosophy teacher in high school,” he continues. “We explored concepts like man versus nature, and how we interact with the world around us. I started questioning if we’re really on the right path. There is definitely a dark side to the work.”

Sevigney, who has been teaching college-level ceramics for 15 years, enjoys working in ceramics because “clay can look like anything.”

“I love the term trompe l’oeil, or ‘fool the eye,’” he says. “Clay can look like metal.” Indeed, many of Sevigney’s sculptures have parts that appear to be sections of metal pipe, or surfaces that appear to be cast metal. “I like the ability to take the material and go beyond what it really is.”

While teaching and working with students who are seeking their own artistic voices and visions, Sevigney advises balancing inspiration with practicality. “Some of the most important things I teach are critical thinking and problem solving,” he says. A student stops in, and Sevigney asks: “What’s the biggest thing I try to teach you guys?”

“To think for ourselves,” she responds quickly.

“Perfect!” Sevigney says. “When you’re out of here, you’re on your own. It can be difficult to do this kind of work, to be an artist. I encourage students to continue on with their studies and their art; I want them to be ready.”

To learn more about Sevigney and view more of his work, visit his website.

Top photograph: Sevigney in the studio. John Anderson photo.

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