Form + the process of transformation

An ancient art that is open to innovation and new technologies, ceramics offers a broad vision for form, content and invention. Faculty encourage risk-taking as you master technique, inventing and blending processes to develop a personal approach to your work. Intellectual curiosity and a passion for process are essential tools for this major.

The curriculum is grounded in conceptual issues and techniques of forming and finishing, such as sculptural building; wheel throwing; mold-making and slip-casting; and various firing methods. You will formulate and mix your own clay bodies and glazes, supported by fully stocked and equipped studio areas.

In addition to the major curriculum, students can work with kiln-formed glass, study computer modeling programs for design and digital prototyping, engage with social practice and participate in a host of elective courses. We emphasize research and presentation, with a concentration on professional practice that prepares emerging artists for a career in the arts.

Full-Time Faculty

Cary Esser

Professor and The Kathleen Collins Chair in Ceramics

Cary Esser’s sculptures indulge the materiality of ceramics and draw on the history of architectural terra cotta, producing artworks ranging from single tiles to large-scale installations. She has served as chair of the Kansas City Art Institute ceramics department since 1996. During her 30-year career in the arts, Esser has also taught at the University of North Carolina, Duke University and Louisiana State University (LSU). She has been a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation, Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, the International Ceramics Studio in Hungary, and other venues. Esser has recently exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Northern Clay Center. She is featured in the March 2013 issue of Ceramics: Art and Perception and received the 2013 Kansas City Art Institute Distinguished Achievement Award. Esser and her KCAI students and colleagues were presented in Season Two of the PBS “Craft In America” television series, broadcast in 2009. She holds an M.F.A. degree from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and a B.F.A. degree from KCAI.

Contact: Cesser@kcai.edu

Paul Donnelly


Paul Donnelly is a studio potter who uses slip cast and wheel-thrown techniques to create decorative yet functional pottery. His work navigates between architecture, nature and popular culture to reveal notions of history and fashion and their place in the domestic landscape. He received his B.F.A. degree from Edinboro University, Pennsylvania, and his M.F.A. from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Before receiving his master’s degree, he managed the ceramics department facilities at the University of Pennsylvania while also participating in the Artist in Residence Program at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally.

Contact: Pdonnelly@kcai.edu

Casey Whittier

Associate Professor

Casey Whittier received her BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and MFA from the University of Colorado Boulder. Her work investigates the fine line between the need to preserve and the need to re-imagine, re-configure and re-contextualize the world around her. Utilizing a variety of forming methods, Whittier recreates elements from nature, unites the landscapes of her reality with the landscapes of daydreams, exploits the visceral qualities of clay, and ponders the power of shared experience. The physical impressions that come through rolling, tearing, squishing, dipping, pushing, pinching, molding, casting, and scratching become representations of touch, of thought, of time spent.

Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States. She is an advocate for community engagement through the arts and has been awarded an ArtsKC Inspiration Grant and Artist INC grant for her ongoing Palm Petals project. Her work can be found at www.caseywhittier.com.

Contact: Cwhittier@kcai.edu


Once you declare your major, ceramics students take the following core courses as they progress from sophomore to senior year. For additional electives and liberal arts courses, download the complete Course Catalog.

Ceramics Major Requirements

Double Major Art History & Ceramics Requirements



Like What You See?

For additional examples of student-produced work that displays a wider range of styles, technique and subject matter, browse our expanded photo gallery.


Professional Practice

Professional practice seminars are a compulsory part of KCAI’s undergraduate program. The seminars introduce students to world-renowned visiting artists and other arts professionals, who present lectures, demonstrations and engage with students in interactive, hands-on critiques and workshops.

Ceramics facility updates

A $750,000 recent renovation to the facility included a high-performing plaster lab, expanded glaze room and the Steve Metzler Mezzanine, which provides space for 3-D printers. Our teaching collection holds more than 600 exceptional ceramics by students, faculty, and others, providing inspiration and highlighting the fantastic history of the program. Read more.