Clay Sewell taught art at IMSA from 1990 to 2015. He had previously taught at West Aurora High School, where one of his students was the son of IMSA's HR director, Connie Jo Hatcher. He heard about the opening for the art teaching position both from that student and the teacher who was leaving, both of whom recommended he apply. After his interview for the position, he didn't think he'd get the job, but a couple days later he was called with an offer and accepted.
He started in fall 1990 and found it a different experience than teaching at a regular public high school. The schedule was more flexible and he was struck by the interest and calibre of the students. Over the years, Mr. Sewell primarily taught ceramics, photography, and design courses. He especially enjoyed the ceramics classes and eventually was able to offer a small advanced ceramics class as well. The most challenging aspect of teaching was getting over-committed IMSA students to come in to work more on projects outside of class.
Mr. Sewell worked with students on a few independent studies and inquiry projects over the years, including one with textiles and another on glazes for ceramics. In the early 2000s, BP offered grants for integrating energy education into the curriculum and Mr. Sewell used the grant to build a kiln that was powered off the grid. Solar panels powered a motor, and the kiln burned coffee grounds and sawdust. Over intersession, students helped to design the kiln and then it took a couple years to build.
In addition to his regular teaching, Mr. Sewell coached cross country for his first four years. He participated in a couple intersessions and trips with other IMSA programs. In his first two years at IMSA he took part in an intersession with a member of the science faculty, Dr. Robert Hattaway. They took twelve students to the Florida Everglades and did botany and photography. He remembers it as an especially rewarding teaching experience. In the 2000s, he also went on a trip with the orchestra to London and Paris.
As an artist, Mr. Sewell’s primary interests are in woodworking and ceramics. Early on he wanted to open a woodworking studio and furniture shop, but found it difficult to set up a small business. He then got certified as a teacher and found he liked it. After his retirement in 2015, he taught part-time for a few more years at local public high schools. He has since opened a pottery business, selling his own work.
Interviewer: Sara Goek. Duration: 21:22
art, faculty, intersession, international travel, independent study, inquiry, students
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Sewell, Clay and Goek, Sara, "Clay Sewell" (2021). Oral Histories, IMSA Archives and Special Collections, Leto M. Furnas Information Resource Center. https://digitalcommons.imsa.edu/oral_histories/25