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An Eye for Art: Manchester ceramicist and teacher Nicole Diem has a passion for pottery

Nicole Diem, McDaniel College ceramics instructor.
Nicole Diem, McDaniel College ceramics instructor. (Courtesy photo)

Nicole Diem is a ceramicist living in Manchester. When she took a drawing class at Baltimore Lutheran High School she realized that she was good at art. She had a piece of art put on display at the school art show. She was amazed that one of her pieces of art was put on display which solidified her career choice in the arts.

She realized that she did not want a 9-to-5 office job. That was “not in my wheelhouse,” she said.

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Diem decided to go to school to become an art teacher. She got her associate’s degree at Essex Community College and then received a BS in Education in 1997 from Towson University. She went back to Towson University and received her master’s in Art Education in 2003 and completed her Administration Certification from McDaniel in 2015.

Diem taught art at Middle River Middle School in Essex for five years. Diem and her husband Jeffrey Diem, local electrician, moved to Carroll County in 2001. Diem has been teaching art at Century High School for 18 years.

“There are so many reasons I like teaching art. I like getting to know the students. I also like when they have that ah-ha moment that they are good at something and they have found their niche," she said. “Teaching art can be related to Christmas. Each day is like receiving a gift full of wonder and surprise. Clay is a media that gets everyone excited so it makes my job fun and exciting.”

She teaches a variety of other art classes but is really passionate about clay and makes clay a priority for most of her classes. Projects are relevant and fun, students even get to make Chia Pets that grown Chia grass. She also loves being involved in the school community.

Since 2004, Diem has been working with Ken Hankins at Shiloh Pottery (shilohpottery.com) in Hampstead doing Raku, a Japanese style firing of pottery defined as enjoyment.

The potter takes unfired clay called greenware and it is fired to become bisque. Firing takes all the water out of the clay. Then she glazes the pottery with a paint made of sand/silica and other metal oxides. The glaze reaches a high temperature between 1,800 and 2,300 degrees. It liquifies and then solidifies, becoming a glass like surface over each piece.

Raku is a decorative pottery and is not functional. Some of the final glaze appearances after a raku fire portray a metal like appearance like oil on water.

“Because of the extreme temperature change the glaze will crackle. When we take it out of the kiln, we put it in a trash can full of paper and set it on fire,” Diem said. "You can actually see the lick of the flame as it goes up the piece. Wherever the piece does not have glaze which is intentional, the smoke gets into the unglazed areas and turns it black.

“On other pieces, we do not put glaze on them. Instead we drape horsehair or peacock feathers which burn directly into the pottery leaving exquisite black lines that contrast the white clay.”

In another process, Diem sometimes stains terra sigilatta (which is a very fine slip/liquid clay) in a variety of pastel colors and layers it over the piece prior to the bisque fire. After firing the pieces for a half hour in the raku kiln, she adds the peacock feathers or horsehair which again creates a beautiful contrast of pure black.

“I had to teach ceramics for high school when I came to Carroll County. Someone told me about Hankins so I worked with him and he taught me about Raku,” Diem said.

Diem also did some independent studies through McDaniel College with Hankins. She also took classes at Common Ground on the Hill.

Diem also consigns her pottery at the Clayground in Ellicott City. It is a working studio and gallery.

She did a Carroll County Arts Council show called Elements focusing on the elements of earth. The show included artists Tom Sterner, Maggie Ball, Charlotte Laslow, Virginia Sperry. That is when Charlotte Laslow of Offtrack art asked her to be a partner.

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When Diem heard that Hankins was retiring as a ceramics instructor, she applied for the job and started teaching.

McDaniel Ceramics Students: Josh Martin, Kate Stoll, Mikayla Longmire, Jazz Lilliston, Audrey McComas, Hannah Smith, Ty Maurer, Nate Alston, Laura Tenney, Christian Hauffman, Brianna Spory and Grace Dorsey. Not pictured: Stephanie Akwara, Katie Adelizzi and Makenzie Noble.
McDaniel Ceramics Students: Josh Martin, Kate Stoll, Mikayla Longmire, Jazz Lilliston, Audrey McComas, Hannah Smith, Ty Maurer, Nate Alston, Laura Tenney, Christian Hauffman, Brianna Spory and Grace Dorsey. Not pictured: Stephanie Akwara, Katie Adelizzi and Makenzie Noble. (Courtesy photo)

Diem has also participated in the CCAC Members Show, has participated in Art in the Park and has been part of the Carroll County Art Tour.

Diem also does Raku fires with her high school and college students. Century is the only school in Carroll County that does an off-campus firing. They go to Shiloh Pottery.

“I like the art community of Carroll County and I like being involved and in what’s happening and what events are coming up," she said. "I like being able to participate as an artist.

“I really like being able to work with my hands. Keeping my hands occupied makes for a happier and more engaged brain. I am happiest while creating, drawing, painting, sculpting, crocheting and throwing on the potter’s wheel. My passion is pottery, I am an avid potter and work in clay almost every day, if not with students than for just myself experimenting with new ideas and forms. I love the process of creating something from nothing, like being able to take a lump of clay and manipulate it to create something functional or decorative, whether is a vase, a mug, a bowl or a plate.”

Diem’s Facebook Page is Carpe Clay, her business name.

Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. Her column appears on the first and third Thursday of each month.

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