Chanthu Millay, a University of Maine student majoring in art education, working on a piece for Ceramics II. The expanded ceramics offerings at UMaine were made possible through the contributions of Sam and Sarah Goos, which funded the new Goos Family Studio. (Courtesy of the University of Maine)

ORONO — As far as art goes, ceramics are exceptionally bulky. Ceramics classes need space for clay, drying shelves, kilns and a variety of glazes. For university art programs, the equipment-heavy ceramics can often fall by the wayside, even if interest is high. 

Thanks to a generous donation from Sam and Sarah Goos, whose daughter Ariel studied studio art at UMaine and graduated in 2019, UMaine was able to open the Goos Family Studio. The new studio is allowing the ceramics program at UMaine to grow and giving plenty of space for students to be creative. Now that the program’s new class, Ceramics II, is wrapping up its first semester in the studio, students in the Department of Art and beyond are already seeing the impact of the gift and what it was able to achieve.

Sam and Sarah Goos live in Alton, New Hampshire, where Sam works as a dermatologist and Sarah is a retired attorney. Sam hails from the Augusta area, and his parents, Julius and Charlotte, attended UMaine. Ariel Goos followed in her grandparents’ footsteps, graduating in 2019 with a degree in studio art. As Ariel was preparing for the end of her UMaine college career, the Gooses decided that they wanted to honor their daughter’s graduation — and their family’s multi-generational connection to UMaine — through a gift to the department that made Ariel’s time at UMaine special.

Matt Mullen, University of Maine Foundation philanthropy officer for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that Sam and Sarah Goos were exceptional donors in many ways. For one, it is rare that parents with no alumni affiliation give a gift of the size that the Gooses wanted to give. The Gooses were also open to whatever the Department of Art needed, and landed on the ceramics studio, despite the fact that Ariel is more of a painter. As the logistical challenges of creating a ceramics studio — during the pandemic, no less — led to additional costs, the Gooses contributed further. 

“We’re delighted to be able to support the Art Department at UMaine with this gift. The Goos Family Studio will serve as a lasting reminder of the opportunities it provided for our family and for future art students for years to come,” Sam and Sarah Goos wrote in a statement.

The gift also includes an endowment that will continue to financially support the maintenance and upkeep of the studio. Some of the funds were provided by Julius Goos’ estate when he passed away in 2020 — and recently from Ariel Goos as she started her life after UMaine.

“It was really a vote of confidence in the department,” Mullen says. “It says a lot about the family that they were giving something that would come to fruition after their daughter graduated. It’s really three generations of giving back to making this happen. It’s pretty remarkable.”

The studio is located in a renovated York Complex building. This semester was the first where students were finally able to take the newly launched upper-level ceramics class in the updated space.

John Eden and Constant Albertson, both long-time ceramics instructors at UMaine, say that the new studio is an incredible asset for the program. Previously, UMaine’s only ceramics class, Ceramics I, was held in the Sculpture Studio abutting the parking lot for the Collins Center for the Arts. The space was not large enough to accommodate the needs of the ceramics class, much less expand the offerings.

“It’s infinitely better,” Eden says. “Before, tables were so close together that it was difficult to get close enough to help individual students. The new studio makes a fantastic difference.”

Eden and Albertson can already see the benefits to their students because of the expanded space and expanded offerings. Albertson says that Ceramics II allows students to expand the basic techniques they learned in Ceramics I to be “more sophisticated, more themed based, more conceptually,” as well as learning about techniques like firing and developing glazes. 

“It puts students a step beyond,” Albertson says. “It’s a very old and ancient way that human beings have explored ideas and we do ultimately have the same brain that we had thousands of years ago. We learn with our hands as much as anything. In a world where people spend more time at computers than making objects with their hands, ceramics offers a relief. It’s a way to learn, explore, communicate, and express oneself in a way that human beings have always done.”

The students can see the benefits, too, as the higher-level ceramics class has allowed them to express their creativity at a different level. Each month, Albertson gives the students a prompt to interpret with their work.

Chanthu Millay, an art education major, took the prompt of “solace” to reflect on her experience as a survivor of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. She has sculpted one of the “killing trees” where the regime killed children that now has bracelets hanging from it to represent the lives lost, to which she will add her own bracelet. Below are three faces symbolizing the stages of grief, sadness and eventual peace she has experienced in processing the event.

Millay says that after virtual learning, having a physical space to do art has been a game changer for her as an artist.

“I’m not big into messes and so when I had to do it at home it was torture,” Millay says. “Having ceramics is essential as an artist. I think I’ve become a better artist by being able to look at materials and space differently, giving me the ability to tackle new situations.”

Kal Bailey, a third-year student studying studio art, says that they were “immediately on board” when they saw Ceramics II was available.

“In other studio art classes, the students tend to already know the material whereas, in ceramics, students often haven’t worked with clay before,” Bailey says. “It creates a different challenge for them to work through.”

The studio even benefits students who aren’t art majors. Desiree Tanner is a senior studying microbiology and chemistry. She says that she likes to make planters for her houseplants in ceramics class while also getting a creative outlet from her STEM major.

“I have done almost every type of art and I can say this one is definitely my favorite,” Tanner says. 

One of the things all the students said that they love the most about the new studio is that it is open 24/7.

“Creativity comes at all hours of the day and the night. Being restricted to a couple of hours is really, really hard. I need to be able to come in when I’m feeling that creative moment. Having the studio open like that is really essential,” Millay says.

Justin Wolff, professor of art history and chair of the Department of Art, said the new studio is helping UMaine’s art curriculum become even more well-rounded by providing its students with more skills in three-dimensional art.

“Growing the ceramics program allows us to increase their strength in this area,” Wolff says. “It gives students much broader training and exposure to different types of making, and not just the conceptual design work of 2D, but the hands-on building and assembling required in three-dimensional art. It gives our students better preparation and greater breadth. The space allows us to grow that curriculum. You can’t really ask for more than a gift like that.”

Plus, ceramics as a discipline is hot right now. Ceramics I counts toward UMaine’s art general education requirement, so there is plenty of demand from outside of the department. Wolff says he often fields calls from community members looking to use the studio, and he has to kindly turn them away — right now, the space is only for UMaine classes.

“It’s a popular course and students really enjoy being in a space that is clean and safe and modern and up-to-date where they can get their hands into the clay and make things that they’re proud of,” Wolff says.