BB&N Open Houses on Saturday, October 29

Please join us on Saturday, October 29 for an Admission Open House highlighting the vibrant community and learning environments that comprise our Lower, Middle, and Upper School campuses. Featuring tours, open play rehearsal, and informative panels with faculty, coaches, and staff, the event is the perfect way to learn about the dynamic opportunities available to your child at BB&N.

For more information and detailed schedules of the day's events, please follow the below links.

Upper School/Middle School
80 Gerry's Landing Road, Cambridge
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Click here for more information and schedule.

Lower School
10 Buckingham Place, Cambridge
12:00 to 2:30 PM

Click here for more information and schedule.

Advanced Ceramics Students Hone Their Craft with Christian Tonsgard

Backlit by the looming studio window, students lean over whirring pottery wheels, their muddy hands cupping clumps of clay, heads cocked, eyes unwavering. Slapping clay into a ball, one student adds a sharp beat to the wheels' light humming.

Christian Tonsgard walks slowly down the line of his Advanced Ceramics I and II students and stops when Isabella Kennedy '18 looks up at him over a rough cylinder of slick clay that will, with her coaxing, become a jar.

"How do I collar this in?" she asks.

"Start lower than where you want it to become narrower." He watches her place her hands around the clay and then says, "Like this." Holding out his hands, his left-hand thumb and middle finger pressed against their right-hand counterparts, he forms a circle.

Eyes locked on his hands, Isabella imitates his formation in midair, then moves her hands to the clay and presses the pedal to spin the wheel. "Oh, like this!" she says, the clay yielding to her pressure.

"Start to squeeze in, and as the clay begins to rise, use your pointer fingers to compress the rim. That will keep the clay down and centered; otherwise, it would shoot upward," Tonsgard says. "You've got it."

Isabella's jar is the first component in the challenging process of making a teapot, requiring several sophisticated technical skills. "This is asking a lot of the kids," admits Tonsgard. "It's most difficult to bring all these elements together to make one unified piece: a handle that reflects the arc and angle of the spout, a knob that complements the shape of the body." As much as the project is intended to make students focus on the interrelated facets of a single piece, it's also meant to stimulate their personal interests in creating a particular form or in developing a skill. Over a few weeks, these juniors and seniors will blaze their own trails, aided by Tonsgard's individualized coaching along the way. While his students clearly feel comfortable asking him for help, he says, "I want them to adventure on their own, as well. I love it when they start pushing what they thought they were capable of and wondering 'what happens if....' That's fun and exciting for me to see."

These advanced students, too, value the autonomy Tonsgard encourages in them. In her third year of Ceramics, Lexie Massa '17 notes, "He's really patient when he's instructing us on technique and he will help us, but he'll also make us fend for ourselves, which is often more useful. It's the whole trial and error thing: you're going to learn more when you fail than when someone helps you succeed."

To launch those independent processes, Tonsgard begins with a demonstration at his standing potter's wheel. He reminds the Advanced I students watching him that last year he had them practice making level cylinders; now, they will use that skill to form the body of the teapot—essentially a jar with a fat rim—and then they'll "split the rim" to create the flange, or gully, the lower horizontal ledge that supports a lid. Following that demonstration, Tonsgard shows them how to use calipers to gauge the inside diameter of the jar, a measurement needed to create a snugly fitting lid, one of the project's trickiest challenges.

Smacking a new slab of clay onto the wheel, Tonsgard appears not to register the splatters that splotch his forehead and cheek. "For the lid, I like to throw off the hump," he continues, referring to a base of clay from which a potter can "throw" several little pieces in succession without having to re-center the clay on the wheel each time. "The lid is essentially a small bowl, used upside down on the jar or teapot." He gently pinches a wall of clay between a couple fingers and pulls up. "I'll leave enough clay at its bottom so I can decide later if I want to trim a knob from it or throw a knob on there," he explains.

A little while later, Isabella is getting ready to try her hand at splitting the rim, and Tonsgard is trying to get her up to speed, literally.

"Last year you always went so fast!" he says with a chuckle. "But this year, so far, you're..."

"Like molasses!" finishes Isabella, laughing.

"You'd never think that you were so good at running!" They both laugh.

With a few more suggestions, Tonsgard guides Isabella as she pulls up the clay to make an even jar with a substantial rim. "See how nice and perfect that is?"

Isabella eyes her work and chuckles. "Yeah, true."

Underscoring his advice, he says, "It's because you had speed and you let it make that rotation before you took your hands away."

"That speed did help a lot. I'm not gonna lie," she says, laughing.

"Speed is your friend; you just have to know how to manage it." Tonsgard then tells her to hold a rib, a small plastic disk used for shaping, on the inside edge of the jar's rim. "Put your finger inside and push down on the rim. Just stay steady."

As the wheel spins, Isabella presses gently so the inner edge drops a quarter inch, forming the flange, while the rim's outer edge remains at the original height.

"See, the slower you go," Tonsgard explains, "the more room there is for error, the more time for a mistake. But that's beautiful, Isabella. That's spot on."

He nods and moves on to Bayard Eton '17, an Advanced II student, who has thrown a lid off the hump. "Mr. Tonsgard, how do I take this off?"

Tonsgard has Bayard make a groove by holding a needle tool stationary at the lid's base and spinning the wheel. He hands Bayard the wire tool—simply a wire between two wooden handles—and says, "Put the wire in the groove and wrap it around the clay. Start the wheel. Pull the wire tight. Stop. Now you can pick up your lid."

Bayard says, "You just, like, strangle it."

"Yeah, exactly," says Tonsgard with a laugh. "That's sort of a morbid way of thinking of it, but yeah...."

"I know!" says Bayard, joining the laugh.

Ceramics class gives Bayard a chance to work with his hands and to focus intently on something in a way that releases him from the rest of his school day. "It's not just pulling up the clay that's really fun—it's the environment in the room, too. The kids in this class have formed a really nice bond, and Mr. Tonsgard always finds something to talk about with us."

Brooke Shachoy '18 also enjoys "the little community" the class has created, she says. "I get to interact with other students in an artistic way, rather than an academic way." Finding Tonsgard to be "super down to earth, super cool, super relatable," she appreciates that "he gives you room to interpret projects as you want to interpret them."

For Alex Evenchik '17, in the case of this teapot-inspired venture, that means taking the new skill of making a spout and applying it to long-necked bottles, a variation on a project he did in a glassblowing class last summer. Bayard has shifted lanes from teapot to another pouring vessel, an oblong ewer, an idea sparked by Tonsgard's demonstration of throwing a football-shaped bowl.

"When Mr. Tonsgard showed us how to make a teapot," says Natalie Madden '17, "it's made me think about the BB&N trip I went on last June to China. I want to make a Chinese tea set—a teapot and little cups that go together." Increasing the challenge, Natalie decides to try working in porcelain, whose cream-cheese consistency is harder to control.

Mason Olmsted '17 is also inspired by the idea of a teapot's corresponding pieces. "I'm putting together a portfolio of 12 to 14 jars. None are the same, but if I can continue to make a connection between each of them, they become a set. I've been focusing a lot more on my jars' shapes, their subtle differences."

Just as Tonsgard hoped the teapot project would evolve, he's gotten the students "to focus on the little details," he says, "in whatever way that has happened for each of them. They're all looking at their pots in a much different way now—from top to bottom, considering the entire pot. It's an advanced way of thinking." He points to Alex's bottles. "Now he's working on rounding a bottle's foot—a delicate detail, easily overlooked."

In their individual endeavors with ceramics, students also learn discipline, Tonsgard says. "It's the same thing as soccer or math; it's all about practicing, at looking at the formula and figuring out how it works." Before he went on to do a B.F.A. at RISD and an M.F.A. at Arizona State, Tonsgard played soccer and baseball while studying at Monmouth College in Illinois, and he brings that athletic mindset to his own work and to what he teaches his students. "If I work really hard, I'm going to get better, and it's going to be rewarding. I think most of the kids relate to that. They'll take experience with discipline away from this class—and creative problem solving, too. There's no definitive way to make a cup, for instance; you can come up with a creative solution. They can use that experience in their lives."

Brooke finds that ceramics has taught her to manage her frustration when something isn't turning out the way she envisioned it; she's learned to adapt her view, to "go with the flow more," she says. She notes that she uses this ability when grappling with math problems or writing an essay. "I look at what I'm doing in that moment and say, 'Okay, where can I take it from here?'" She's learned to look for a different route, to avoid feeling thwarted.

"Oh, shoot!" says Natalie, holding up a jagged piece of a large, leather-hard bowl she was trimming on the wheel. Momentarily disappointed, she soon announces, "This will be my abstract piece."

"Your improv piece," Tonsgard suggests with a smile.

Alex adds, "My glassblowing teacher last summer would always preach detachment."

"Absolutely," says Tonsgard. "Don't fall in love with it until it comes out of the kiln. This stuff will break your heart."

Later, Natalie reflects, "You have to learn that you're going to mess up in this class, and you have to go with it."

Tonsgard likes showing his students that he, too, messes up sometimes. He sees his class, he says, "as a place where mistakes can be—should be—made. Progress comes from mistakes." With a light touch, he tries to help students accept imperfection.

"My suggestion to you," Tonsgard says to Alex, who sees minor surface lumps in his bottle, "is to stop worrying about the little wonkies. I know they're driving you nuts, but you'll get them next time. Let's start doing some rapid fire—like five balls of clay per class."

"All right," Alex says, nodding.

Down the humming line of wheels, Lexie leans back in her seat, squints at the spinning jar before her, then hovers over it to assess if it wobbles, indicating it's not perfectly centered. Carefully adjusting the curved tips of the calipers, Brooke measures her lid's width. Mason exhales a held breath, shakes out his hand, and gently glides a sponge from base to rim, smoothing his jar's surface.

Eyeing his intensely focused potters, Tonsgard says with a slight smile, "Whether they know it or not, they've become sticklers for craftsmanship."

(Story by Sharon Krauss; photos by Josh Touster)

Friday Knight Lights 2016

October 14 marked the second annual BB&N Friday Knight Lights for an evening filled with high energy and community spirit—under the lights! Varsity Field Hockey kicked off the night with a strong 1-0 win, followed by a heartbreaking 44-41 loss for Varsity Football, both vs. Milton Academy. The BB&N community came together to cheer on the Knights of BB&N while also enjoying refreshments, free t-shirts, and other fun festivities.

Click here for a photo gallery.

Homecoming 2016

The weather was perfect and the energy was high at this year’s Homecoming events on the weekend of November 24th. Friday night saw the girls’ varsity soccer and field hockey teams both defeat two strong Newton Country Day sides, 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. However, the highlight of the evening was a fast-paced and spirited battle between the BB&N and Belmont Hill boys’ varsity soccer teams. The game kicked off under the lights on Franke Field in front of a record crowd and came to a climatic finish when Belmont Hill tied the game 2-2 with seconds left.

The energy carried right over into Saturday as the School prepared for the first varsity football game of the season. The grounds were littered with fans and families all enjoying refreshments from the various food trucks and lining up to have their faces painted in the traditional BB&N blue and gold. The day would end with the football team handily beating Tabor Academy 49-14, cross-country posting a number of personal records at Fresh Pond, and JV soccer earning a 3-3 draw against a strong Belmont Hill squad.

Click here for a photo gallery.

Knighting Ceremony Welcomes Freshmen

The Nicholas Athletic Center was a blur of color and activity as Upper School students gathered for the start-of-year Knighting Ceremony last week. The annual pep rally/ community-building event served as a warm welcome to the Upper School for freshmen as they charged through a tunnel of a cheering seniors before being knighted by student council co-presidents Mary DeVellis ’17 and Charlie Heveran ’17.

Click here for a gallery.

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