Q: Why did you start creating art?
A (Chentell Stiritz Shannon '13): I first began working with my hands during my freshman year of high school. My older sister was enrolled in ceramics as an elective, and being the awestruck younger sister that I was, I decided to take the same course. As it turns out, I loved it. My teacher introduced me to traditional techniques, I took every ceramics class available, and when I ran out of options, I built an independent curriculum. I was mesmerized and in many ways I found it to be therapeutic. Discovering this really drove me to continue to work with clay and to seek ways to make the craft a long-term endeavor.
Q: How do you decide if you are going to create a new piece?
A: Deciding on new products is initially a natural progression. Ideas come and go. I have a new idea when I am cooking dinner and want a certain size dish, when I am sitting outside on the porch and see that I have a plant that needs potting, or when I am organizing my apartment and looking for the right bottle, votive, or bowl to set the scene. I often catch myself thinking, something of this shape and this size would look good here, and if I can see others thinking the same thing, I take the idea seriously. A strategic part of my role as a designer is to discern which ideas are worth pursuing, worth bringing to life, worth making a thousand times, and then selling and shipping all over the nation.
Q: What was the first piece you ever created?
A: I want to answer this in terms of my first piece for Convivial Production, Inc. as a company because there is some sentimental value here. Some backstory first. At Wheaton you could find me anytime of the day or night in one of two places: Either I was tucked away in the basement of the art building working in the ceramics studio, or I was sitting at a professor’s desk bugging them for feedback. As a student at Wheaton it was important to me that I utilized the time, space, equipment, and professional resources available to the greatest extent. I made as many items as I could and I sought critiques as often as the professors were willing to give them. Professors Hooker, Sheesley and Samuelson were my main victims and I honestly believe that our discussions drove me to understand my work. The first piece I created for Convivial was during the last semester of my senior year. I had the idea of starting a line of work for event rentals and I went to these professors and asked for their support as I embarked on the endeavor. They had a curious, all-hands-on-deck response, and thus, Convivial’s first line of work was born. My idea was to make 300 plates for wedding rentals--150 for dinner and 150 for dessert--and that is exactly what I did. In the last few weeks of school I wasn’t to be found except in the basement working away making, glazing, firing plate after plate. My sweet professors would peek in here and there to see the set as it grew.
Q: What inspired you to start your company, Convivial Productions, Inc.?
A: After finishing the rental collection and having the set featured and photographed in a professionally designed setting, I noticed a shift. Seeing the products in use, most people wanted to purchase sets for their homes, rather than rent them for their events. As a response, I quickly shifted gears and began producing and selling new products. This was the natural progression that turned an idea into the company I have today. What continues to inspire our work through Convivial is the love for functional wares and the opportunities it brings for hospitality. I’ve personally always had a love for hospitality. My father worked in the industry his entire life and consequently my sister and I have both taken after him. It’s in our being and it’s the reason I design the products that I do. If you’ve never come across the word convivial or conviviality before, in essence it embodies social vitality, festivity, and the joining of people to eat, drink, and enjoy merry company. All of our products within Convivial are designed with this vision in mind. We hope that our products will allow hosts and hostesses to serve well and to set the scene for conviviality.
Q: How did Wheaton equip you for the work you are doing now?
A: Often I get a stunned look when I tell individuals that I went to a liberal arts college rather than an art institute. I think this speaks to the quality of Wheaton and the way it served me as a student. I view my time at Wheaton as a place set apart. It was my time to learn, to experiment, to think. I had equipment, tools, and space at my reach, and my only responsibility was to use the time and resources to the best of my abilities. Where I think Wheaton excels most as an institution is it provides relentless opportunities and support for its students to pursue their passions and interests. I found freedom in this and ran with it from day one.
Q: How does your faith inform your work?
A: Faith has informed my work in various ways throughout my creative career. Today I see faith’s influence in the way I seek to structure my business and the way I design our products, in the decisions I make within Convivial as a company, and the vision I have for its future. Lately I have been strategizing on how to create life-giving job opportunities through the company, how to give back to the local and global community, and how to create products that inspire the hospitable spirit that we read about in the gospels. Faith informs the way I interact with my staff, with my customers, and with our retailers. Faith drives me to create work that will inspire others toward hospitality, beauty, stewardship, community, and service.