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Artist Profile: Talented BHS Ceramicist Gains Online Following

Photograph by Calliope Arkilic

Maia Danks is not just any senior at Berkeley High School (BHS). She is a Scholastic Art and Writing Awards regional winner throughout the years of 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, and her art has been sold and displayed at many local galleries around the Bay Area. Her art form, ceramics, is essentially the configuration of clay to make articles of art. It can range from sculpture,  coiling, slab building and more, but Danks’ speciality is an art form that is known as wheel throwing.

Wheel throwing, more commonly known as “throwing” is a kind of ceramics that uses a potter’s wheel machine to make round ceramic ware. Danks usually throws “functional pieces,” like bowls, mugs, plates, and vases. Her artwork is delicate and impressively detailed. The pottery clearly shows that Danks knows exactly what she’s doing and is skilled in her craft.

As BHS ceramics teacher Andrea Sanguine put it, “[Danks] mainly just works on throwing. But it’s what she does with the thrown pieces, there is also a little unique quality to it, it’s mainly built on the wheel but she does stuff to it or builds off of it.”

Danks has been doing ceramics for eleven years in her free time, but has been taking classes at the local Kids N’ Clay Studio for six years.

Her dedication to her craft is evident as she has her own wheel at home and can now produce “twenty pieces [at a time] if I am doing throwing at home, because I usually spend eight hours throwing at a time” she explains.

On top of throwing at home weekly, during her junior year at BHS, she took Advanced Ceramics and as a senior  she is enrolled in AP Ceramics. Despite her prior knowledge and experience of ceramics coming into class at BHS, she says, “[The classes] have been really great.”

While other students in AP Ceramics have been working on their portfolios in class, Danks has access to a wheel at home, allowing her  to have complete cohesion between her house and the class. “It’s pretty much become open studio and I am able to just have free range [in class],” she says.

Her artwork consists of mainly simpler forms but with complex glazes. She describes the process as starting with her “wheel at home that I do midfire stuff with and then fire them at the studio. And then here at school I do all high fire stuff,”

For Danks, ceramics is more than just a hobby. It is an entrepreneurial opportunity. “I have a business around it where I sell my work under Octopus Ceramics. And I have an online website and sell at local sales and stuff like that,” she explains.

She produces work mainly to “get the stuff in my house out because I produce so much.” Her work has also caught attraction on Instagram. Her account, named “Octopus Ceramics” has just under thirteen thousand followers which is highly impressive for a high school student. It started out as a mere experimentation and  as Danks explains “[it] quickly blew up.”

Her Instagram page is now a central market for her to sell her work to pottery lovers, both locally and nationwide.

Sanguine has now known  Danks for two years and has seen her grown and has helped her identify her  strengths and challenges.  When talking about Danks she says, “[she] brings in that laser focus where she is producing a lot. She is very serious about art making.” Sanguine went on to say, “[Danks] is really trying her best to really create a business and sell work and get to know all parts of the process of throwing and surface decoration.”

Danks will be attending the illustrious Carleton College in the coming year, where she will be majoring in environmental sciences. She said she may decide to pursue  a visual arts major instead.

No matter what she ends up focusing on in college, the talent, patience, and determination she has acquired from ceramics will certainly provide her with the skills she needs to succeed in any kind of professional environment.