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Artist profile: Lonnie Schang featured at Good Earth Pottery

Lonnie Schang is the featured artist at Good Earth Pottery during the Fairhaven Art Walk on Nov. 27.
Lonnie Schang is the featured artist at Good Earth Pottery during the Fairhaven Art Walk on Nov. 27. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Lonnie Schang, a longtime art teacher at Sehome High School, is one of dozens of artists participating in the annual post-Thanksgiving Fairhaven Holiday Festival and Art Walk, from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28. He will be at a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Good Earth Pottery, 1000 Harris Ave., showing his new raku vessels.

I learned a trade and a great work ethic along the way that influences me to this very day.

Lonnie Schang, artist and teacher, about his days as a bricklayer

Question: What were your growing-up years like?

Answer: I was born in Chehalis and grew up in Castle Rock. I dropped out of what was then Central Washington State College after one year and worked at various jobs before hiring on with my stepfather, a local bricklayer. I spent eight years learning the trade, first as a hod carrier, then the last few years as a bricklayer. We did mostly residential work, fireplaces, rockwork, block foundations and more.

I learned a trade and a great work ethic along the way that influences me to this very day. Ironically, I helped build part of Kelso High School as a bricklayer, not knowing that I’d eventually be a high school teacher one day.

Question: Then your life changed?

Answer: I had a major lower-back injury at about seven years into my construction work and decided to eventually go back to college, at first during nights at Lower Columbia Community College. After a year, I finished my associate of arts degree. At that point, I quit my job and moved to Bellingham and studied at Western Washington University from 1984 to 1986, completing my bachelor’s in education and did my student teaching at Sehome High School — where I currently work.

Local art teaching jobs were unavailable at the time I graduated, though, so I applied for and took a series of one-year, leave-replacement jobs, teaching at Spanaway Junior High, Oak Harbor Junior High, Oak Harbor High School and Lake Stevens Middle School, all the while completing my master’s degree.

One of the best parts of my job is when former students come back and visit and share their success stories.

Lonnie Schang, about teaching at Sehome High

The Sehome High art position opened up and I applied and was hired in 1991. I’ve been teaching at Sehome ever since, at first teaching mostly 2-D art classes. Slowly, over the years, the program has grown into a nearly full-time ceramics position.

Question: Why do you enjoy teaching?

Answer: I really love my job and can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m very fortunate to be teaching at a great school, with a fantastic staff, in a discipline that’s my passion, with really amazing students! Over the years — 29-plus —I’ve met so many amazing people, and one of the best parts of my job is when former students come back and visit and share their success stories and confirm the positive experiences they had in our art program at Sehome.

Question: Any significant mentors?

Answer: My junior high art teacher, Bob Collins, was an amazing person and teacher. He was a talented ceramic artist and my inspiration. We talked about what it would be like if I were to be an art teacher. I decided right then, as an eighth-grader, that was to be my path. I just took me a while to get there.

Question: What are the works you create?

Answer: Some of my gallery work that I sell at is whimsical and off-beat. It’s often cartoon-like, with a linear, sgraffito (editor’s note: sgraffito is produced by applying layers of color or colors to hard pottery and then scratching off parts of the layers to create contrasting images, patterns and texture and reveal the clay color underneath) and underglaze decoration technique.

Good Earth Pottery displays and sells Schang’s raku ware, a Westernized version of tea bowls made for the tea ceremony in Japan.

I like funny, unexpected imagery in ceramic art, and some of the narrative qualities that I depict in my work are influenced by the improv classes I’ve been taking with Sheila Goldsmith at Improv Playworks for more than 10 years. It’s incredible fun and we even perform at local venues a few times a year.

However, my current work at Good Earth is very different. I made over 60 new pieces, all raku ware. It’s a Westernized version of the tea bowls that were originally made for the tea ceremony in Japan. The pieces are all wheel-thrown and have iridescent, metallic, copper-based glazes. They can be spectacular at times.

I enjoy the diversity of clay and love exploring new and varied techniques. I also make functional ware that I sell at my home studio. I create mugs, bowls, vases, and occasional lidded vessels.

Question: Any other interests?

Answer: I am also a self-taught metal sculptor and also make concrete cast sculptures at home. I’ll retire from teaching in about five years and will continue to explore clay at my home studio along with all different media. I want to do it all. I just seem to run out of time, but never ideas.

Margaret Bikman: 360-715-2273, @bhamentertainme

Two words

Fairhaven Holiday Festival and Art Walk

When: 3-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, and noon-8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28

Where: Historic Fairhaven business district

Cost: Free

Details: fairhaven.com

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