Jonathan Dazo is a Filipino-American clay artist known for his fossilized fish bowls, cups and other functional pieces. A Berea College graduate, Jonathan first started working in clay at eight years old when his mother gifted him a kit of modeling clay.
“I was a Lego’s kid. I was always interested in architecture and wanted to build things, but I started playing with clay and I learned something interesting: there was no set dimension with clay. It could take any shape I wanted, and really, as long as I have the imagination for it, I can create anything,” Jonathan said.
He didn’t get more heavily into ceramics until a gap year after high school where he worked as the art teacher’s assistant.
“One day, I found pottery wheels in the art store room and I just asked if I could use them. My art teacher taught some clay classes, but never throwing on the wheel—she taught more freehand ceramics as there was never enough equipment to teach all the kids who were interested. Mostly, she would give me diagrams to learn from.”
Jonathan always wanted to go to Berea College in order to participate in its iconic labor program. His mother is a Berea College alumni and his sister was also a Berea student. He started off in a labor position as a janitor, eventually requesting to be transferred into the ceramics studio.
“As a janitor, I’d watch alongside the ceramics apprentices, clean off the wheels and floors, but mostly I was paying attention to how they did their work. And so what I did throughout the Fall was come in at 6:00 PM, when they did a lot of their work, and I would watch and see how they threw.”
He was able to apply to the ceramics program as a sophomore, per the college’s requirements. In the program, he developed his signature as an artist. He had been following an artist named Gary Jackson who makes his own ceramic stamps and uses them to decorate pieces and make patterns. Jonathan began to experiment with stamp work. Enter fish bones.
“I’d go use the convection oven in the dorm and smell up the place, making stamps. For some reason, everything I tried failed, except for the fish fossil. It was deep enough to trap the glaze well during the glaze firing. It really encapsulated this fossilized fish. It showed really well in darker colors; the favorite was shino, a metallic, almost golden-like glaze we kept in the studio. Over time, I got to know how glaze worked with this stamp, and this became the Jonathan Dazo mug—fish fossils,” Jonathan described.
While at Berea College, he actually majored in nutrition and food studies. One reason why he focuses on making bowls and other functional ceramic pieces is that Jonathan loves to feed people. As such, he gives back to his Berea community through the Empty Bowls fundraiser, organized by Berea College students for the Berea Food Bank. Jonathan has donated his bowls to the program for seven years now.
“Berea College has a long history of helping students from lower economic backgrounds get their education — many of those students might have experienced food insecurity. I was one of those people. I came from a modest background, and it’s a privilege to be able to give back in this way.”
In addition to producing his art, Jonathan now teaches a variety of workshops, with both in person (in Berea) and remote options. He leads workshops for artists of all ages and abilities in making plates, bowls and mugs, and more, as well as carving, and even miniature food art!
In December 2021, Jonathan led a pottery activity for the Mountain Association as a part of our annual — now virtual — holiday party. He prepared kits for us, and then guided us over Zoom through creating a pinch bowl and a mug, firing our pieces after they were complete. We had a ton of fun and really appreciated his gentle way of teaching and his sense of humor. We are also proud to support Jonathan’s business through our Lending and Business Support programs.