Medicine as art: Westminster student combines unlikely duo into her work

Sammi Petersen, a junior ceramics major, uses the pottery wheel in Westminster College’s pottery studio to make a jar. Petersen uses both wheel throwing and sculpting to create her work. Photo by Mauri Martinez.

Sammi Petersen, a junior ceramics major, uses the pottery wheel in Westminster College’s pottery studio to make a jar. Petersen uses both wheel throwing and sculpting to create her work. Photo by Mauri Martinez.

Though art and medicine may seem like two fields that don't intersect often, junior Sammi Petersen said she uses her medical knowledge to better her art.

Petersen dropped out of the nursing program in 2016 to pursue a degree in ceramics, though she said she is still interested in becoming a physician assistant.

Clayton Keyes, a Westminster ceramics professor, taught some of the classes Petersen has taken and said she has a passion for creating and making.

“She is a very detail-oriented person," Keyes said. "She’s very meticulous—sometimes to a fault. I try to get her to loosen up a bit more, but I try to do that with all my students.”

Petersen's prior knowledge of medicine and anatomy may contribute to her attention to detail.

"I feel like ceramics kind of goes together with medical because then you can have that anatomy background and be able to build realistic figure sculptures and things like that," Petersen said. "Making it realistic is my favorite thing."

Junior ceramics major Sammi Petersen's art is permanently displayed at the ceramics studio at Westminster College. "I love painting and drawing, and I feel like you have to use a lot of drawing in ceramics in order to get a visual basis of what you’re going to be making," Petersen said. Photo by Mauri Martinez.

Junior ceramics major Sammi Petersen's art is permanently displayed at the ceramics studio at Westminster College. "I love painting and drawing, and I feel like you have to use a lot of drawing in ceramics in order to get a visual basis of what you’re going to be making," Petersen said. Photo by Mauri Martinez.

Q: Why did you make such a big change from nursing to ceramics?

A: Originally I dropped out of nursing so I could be a physician assistant (PA). By doing that, I wanted to be able to focus on my science classes, but I really love art, so I didn’t want to not have that a part of my life. So I decided to major in art and complete my prerequisites to be a PA. I am still going to apply for PA school, but if I don’t get in then I am definitely going to pursue ceramics.

Q: How do you incorporate your medical background into your art?

A: I feel like ceramics kind of goes together with medical because then you can have that anatomy background and be able to build realistic figure sculptures and things like that. I have more of an eye for anatomy, like I know this muscle goes here… this is why you have this bone in your ear. Having the anatomy background is better for my sculpting because then I would consider myself as having a one-up on somebody who didn’t have any anatomy background. I feel like it’s definitely important, but that’s not to say that you can’t do it without that background.

Q: Is pottery your favorite art form?

A: I love painting and drawing, and I feel like you have to use a lot of drawing in ceramics in order to get a visual basis of what you’re going to be making. At the very end when you are done making it you can paint it, and that’s a really great part because you can do realistic or abstract. You can paint entirely different things on your surface and have it represent something else. I think my favorite painting medium would be water colors. I’ve lately been experimenting with painting water colors on ceramic surfaces, and it actually creates this velvet matte texture that is really cool.

Q: What are most of your sculptures of?

A: I have two sculptures that are animal based. One of them is the grizzly bear that I made, and then I have a dragon—his name is Stan. I have also made a human skull and it is pretty anatomically correct, if you ask me. I have other things that are just objects, so I have kind of a wide range of different things.

Q: What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve made?

A: I think my favorite is definitely the grizzly bear. He’s so cute, and he’s huge—like three feet tall. I just love that he’ll be on campus forever, and when you walk up to the [ceramics] building, he is the first thing you see. After everything was all said and done, including installation, it took me at least 80 hours. That also includes fixing the giant crack that happened down the back side of it. I had to mix paint into mortar and color match it in order to patch it up.

Q: Do you sell your art?

A: I do sell my art on occasion. All of my stuff is up for sale; if anybody is interested, they can contact me. We are having a ceramics sale on April 6, so anybody can come in and get my mugs and bowls and my little jars and things like that. We will have all sorts of stuff available. Further past that, I will probably have a website up for people to make special orders. But you can follow my Instagram: @sammi_rain11.