Barbara Davis likes to play with fire.
As an associate professor at Florida State University School, she teaches high school students sculpture techniques including raku and saggar, firing processes that originated in Asia many centuries ago. These methods require high heat and combustible materials, a combination generally forbidden in classroom settings. However, because FSUS is a research and development school sponsored by Florida State University, instructors there are encouraged to seek out unconventional learning opportunities and Davis is happy to oblige.
Growing up, Davis loved making art in all forms. Her parents were both medical professionals and when she enrolled at the University of Miami as a freshman, her major was biology.
She quickly realized that her heart was elsewhere and she turned her attention to sculpture full time.
Davis’ professors recognized her passion and talent and recommended she apply to the Cleveland Institute of Art. Davis was accepted and she began a five-year program where she explored many different mediums. She was drawn to one in particular. “I found I loved the immediacy of clay, the give and take. It was during my third year that I decided to do my sculpture work in clay. I’ve been a clay person ever since.”
After graduating with a BFA in sculpture, Davis took a detour to Botswana by way of the Peace Corps. She was asked to serve as an agriculture teacher. “They give you eight weeks of cultural training, language training, and then some training in your field but I had never taken any education courses. A lot of people there either had already been teachers or had been through education programs. When I got to my site to teach, I was completely unprepared, I flew by the seat of my pants.”
Not only did she acclimate herself to the task, she excelled, and found that she loved being an educator. Davis developed a collaborative teaching style and was hired to train the new volunteers. “It wasn’t stand in front, lecture style, but instead, get people to work in groups, give them guiding questions, let them discuss.” After six years in Africa, she came back to the states and enrolled as an MFA student at FSU where she continued to teach and explore the fine arts.
“I was intrigued by artists who were doing artwork with groups of students. I like that interaction where it’s not just me.” Some of her professors encouraged her to reach out to local schools and FSUS (called Florida High, at the time) was a perfect fit. “I went and explained what I wanted to do. Debi Barrett- Hayes, the art teacher, was like ‘yeah, sure, come on, come on.’ I went Monday through Friday, two hours a day, for two years.”
Though Davis had no intention of making teaching her profession after graduation, she landed a job with a federally funded educational research lab where she quickly rose through the ranks. “I did it for 10
years but I got tired of going into low-performing schools to gather data. I would watch as the teachable moment would come and go and I started thinking, I want to teach.” She learned of an opening at FSUS for an art teacher and at age 42, she started building a second career.