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September 16, 2022

Gascogne seeks to sustain ancient terracotta heritage

Laura-Harris Gascogne, JCCC Professor of Fine Arts, had an “Indian summer” she’ll cherish forever. She used her distinction as a Fulbright Research Scholar to join hands with artists in Bankura District, West Bengal, India, to preserve rare ceramic arts and cultural traditions pertaining to terracotta sculpture and pottery. Representing JCCC, Gascogne is Kansas’ only Fulbright Research Scholar recipient in 2020-2021 (grant timelines were extended to 2022 due to travel restrictions).

Gascogne hopes that sharing her experiences will pique her students’ interests to travel abroad and even study overseas.  

“My goal as a teacher is always to inspire students to expand their horizons, whether it is through exploring art from other cultures for class projects or providing a window on a global perspective,” she said.

Summer of sculpture 

A few years ago, Gascogne was commissioned to do creative work for the Bengali community in the Greater Kansas City region. This triggered her interest in ancient terracotta traditions and inspired her to apply for a Fulbright-Nehru Research Fellowship. After being awarded the funding, she used her expertise in terracotta sculpture in India for five months with her family, who assisted with the field research.  Gascogne’s husband, Nick Haney, is also a ceramic artist and adjunct professor at JCCC. 

Now, Gascogne’s mission as a Fulbright Scholar is to shed light and help preserve the rare gift West Bengali Kumbhakar communities offer to not only the ceramic arts but all of humanity. She believes that India’s rapid modernization and lack of income potential for artists has made it increasingly difficult for families to maintain viable businesses; thus, cultural traditions are at risk of demise. 

"Thanks to help from Bankura University and its dedicated leadership and faculty, I was able to visit and interview many remote Kumbhakar villages,” Gascogne said.  

This partnership allowed her to achieve research goals that will contribute to publishing articles and writing a book that will document her findings and experiences.  

“Fulbright is all about mutual cultural exchange, so I approached my research work in this spirit,” Gascogne said. “The focus of my research has never been extensively shared or published outside of India. My collaboration with the institutions and academics has provided a pathway—through future publications—for both rural artisans and academics to be published to a broader audience.” 

She was able to investigate communities that were even more remote than Panchmura village, Bankura District’s terracotta hub, to document the variation in terracotta work and methodologies, as well as the challenges faced in isolated locations.  

In addition, Gascogne has been invited by Vice Chancellor Deb Bandyopadhyay of Bankura University to take initiative on a potential India-U.S. faculty-student exchange program. Many academics and students in India have a strong desire to study abroad and get published in the United States. 

Fulbright experience shapes classroom conversations 

The Fulbright Program was created to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. It is supported at JCCC through the International Education office, which offers opportunities to develop global awareness and learn about geopolitical issues. 

“Professor Laura-Harris Gascogne is a brilliant artist with a passion for her students and her craft. Being a Fulbright Scholar is recognition of the excellence she brings to the intersection of her work as an artist and her commitment to her students here at Johnson County Community College,” said Andy Bowne, JCCC President. “Her sabbatical study of pottery techniques as well as the cultural belief systems tied to art in regions of India will add to the experiences she brings to JCCC.  We are so fortunate to have talented and committed faculty like her, and our students are the beneficiaries of this experience.”  

Curious about other cultures? Find out how to study abroad. 

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