For this issue, we interviewed Alan Spencer, whose career has ranged from field geologist to professional artist to arts educator. Spencer continues his work as an individual artist and has found a way to incorporate his lifelong love of geology into his current series of stoneware vessels, Strata in Clay. The pieces were created to represent examples of fossils preserved in rock strata in the each of the 12 geologic time periods during the past 500 million years. Spencer currently works as a ceramics and sculpture instructor for Worthington City Schools. His most notable works include stained glass window installations at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio and the Delaware County District Library.
GCAC: Where are you from originally? What brought you here to the Central Ohio area?
AS: Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, is where I was born and spent my youth until going off to the College of Wooster in Ohio. I majored in geology, but I enjoyed taking a variety of art classes including ceramics. I took enough art classes to minor in studio art. While at Wooster I met my wife, Amy, while I was teaching an extra-curricular ceramics class. After Amy graduated, we married and moved to Indiana, where I worked as a field geologist for five years.
GCAC: What made you decide to go into the field of geology? And how did that evolve into a career in art? What inspired such a shift?
AS: When I was young, I had always had an interest in rock and fossils. I spent many Sunday afternoons
exploring the freshly exposed rock walls in a nearby limestone quarry looking for crystal and mineral specimens. During my senior year in high school, I took a course in geology and decided that it was the career I wanted to pursue in college.
While working as a geologist, I continued to create my own artwork. Many friends and family encouraged me to start my own art studio after seeing my stained glass artwork. As a field geologist, I was often traveling around the country working with drill crews during the week and home only on weekends. The work schedule with the company eventually pushed me to look for other opportunities. In 1985, my wife’s family invited us to move back to their 70-acre property in Delaware, Ohio, offering a location for me to start my own art studio where I produced ceramics, stained and blown glass works of art for 17 years.
GCAC: Your latest work reveals an intimate familiarity with fossils–obviously because of your education and work as a geologist. Why do you choose to incorporate science or the natural world into your art?
AS: Geology and ceramics have both been passions of mine since I was young. In theStrata in Clay series, I wanted to combine both of these passions and explore how our geologic history could be portrayed through a series of decorated vases. Clay seemed to be a perfect material to work with to create this series. Clay is a material that is produced through the natural erosion process and weathering of rock strata. The earth constantly recycles and rebuilds surface layers. As sand, silt and clay weather away from older deposits, new layers of sedimentary material form, and occasionally an organism gets buried between the layers, creating a fossil. Clay and the unique fossils found in the sedimentary strata of the earth are the focus for Strata in Clay.