For first-generation BFA graduate Ashley (Burrows) Banegas, art has long been a way to seek out connection with other people. Her passion for art was fostered early in life by a middle-school art teacher who behaved unlike any teacher she had ever known. “I had never experienced anyone who lived in such a free, openly communicative kind of way.”
Despite this early inspiration, Banegas, who is originally from Greencastle, PA, started college in 2006 as a business major. On a trip to visit friends at another university, however, she again saw how art connected people. “There is really nothing like an art community to pull you in and let you be you,” she said. She changed majors and was quickly drawn to ceramics.
For a number of years, life got in the way of completing her degree. After a divorce, a move across country in a conversion van and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Banegas felt motivated to complete her undergraduate education at WNMU. She said of her early days as a student here, “I was really nervous getting back to the wheel—trying to jump back into a method of making that I hadn’t really done for ten years.” But she quickly found her footing. Clay “teaches you how to be patient,” she said.
Banegas creates both decorative and functional ceramics. Regarding the latter, she explained that she was attracted to functional work because she “wanted a way to connect with people I hadn’t even met yet,” and creating dinnerware allows her to do that. Her art has been inspired in part by the random assemblage of items in the antique stores she visited when she was a child, and she hopes to create a similar treasure-hunt effect through ceramics. “I like to live in aesthetic chaos,” she said. This spring, her work was featured at the Francis McCray Gallery of Contemporary Art.
Banegas especially credits Assistant Professor of Ceramics Courtney Michaud for helping her to grow as an artist. In addition to learning more about the technical and chemical intricacies of working in ceramics, she found herself learning a great deal about how to effectively communicate with others about her art, a key part of the transition from student to professional artist, and Banegas credits Michaud for mentoring her through the process. “Courtney Michaud was a vital part of this journey,” she said.