After 30 years as an artist and head of the ceramics department at Sawtooth School for Visual Art, Warren Moyer still looks forward to that moment when the kiln door opens.
“Firing changes a piece completely — the color, the textures,” Moyer says. “There is always that moment when you open the kiln and hold your breath, and it’s either Christmas or Halloween. You have moments of disappointment and then those moments where you go, ‘Oh wow! That turned out even better than I thought it would.’ To this day, I still enjoy the experience; it never gets old.”
Three decades after he first ventured into teaching, Moyer has finally retired, but he will still enjoy the kiln experience. He plans to continue teaching classes at Sawtooth, allowing him to maintain relationships with his students while also enjoying time to work on his own art.
“This job has been very consuming, and while I love teaching, I look forward to having concentrated time in the studio,” Moyer says. “As an artist, when you work, you have new ideas you want to pursue, and when you’re working on those ideas you get into a flow, a rhythm. Now, after years of helping others be creative, I will do the same on a personal level with my own work.”
Hundreds of local residents have enjoyed Moyer’s classes at Sawtooth during his tenure. Since its inception, the ceramics program has grown from 30 to more than 300 students, and many students credit Moyer with the establishment of their careers.
“As a student, it’s all about gaining confidence, and Warren is the most gracious, generous, even-tempered man I have ever met,” says Diane Demers-Smith, a flight attendant who started classes at Sawtooth after moving to Winston-Salem in 1996, and who now has a studio in the Arts District. “At first, I was a frenetic little potter, but Warren kept encouraging me to find what worked for me. He is a master craftsman and has incredible knowledge of what he does, and he really helps students take their work to the next level.”
Lori Doherty is also one of Moyer’s students with her own studio. A certified art instructor for K-12 students, Doherty studied with Moyer for more than eight years and credits him with giving her the confidence to explore a new path.
“Warren is the kindest soul,” she says. “He teaches you anything you want to know, and he is creative and thorough in his lesson plans. We would walk the streets of downtown for inspiration on buildings, and his demonstrations were wonderful. I have journals of tips and notes to look back upon for my present day work.
“Warren brings the ceramics department students together like a family,” Doherty says. “You gotta find a great instructor to learn something, someone within whom the desire and love of teaching just flows easily. That’s the definition of Warren.”
Both Demers-Smith and Doherty reference Moyer’s unflappable demeanor as an influencing factor in their development as artists.
“He thrives in adverse [studio] situations,” says Demers-Smith. “He offers solutions and doesn’t complain about problems, teaching you instead how to troubleshoot.”
“This kind man takes phone calls from me — the starting potter at home,” Doherty says. “For example, when my kiln presented me with my first technical error, Warren helped me. I’m just starting my journey selling, and Warren gave me knowledge and support, the confidence to try.”
Some students have been coming to Sawtooth’s ceramics classes for 10 to 15 years, creating what Moyer refers to as a “clay community.” That community is one of the added benefits for artists, according to Demers-Smith.
“The most interesting people are the ones who are interested,” she says, referencing Moyer’s ability to motivate his students. “He wants you to explore on your own, to keep learning.”
“He is the spirit of Sawtooth’s clay department,” Doherty adds.
The opportunity to be both artist and teacher is an exciting one for Moyer, who foresees sharing his enthusiasm with students.
“I have a studio and I am looking forward to spending time there,” he says. “I think it will bring new freshness to my teaching.”