The Britt Nelson Visiting Artist program

The twenty-third Britt Nelson Visiting Artist is David Allyn

David Allyn (above center) will be at Gordon this year as the twenty-third annual Britt Nelson Visiting Artist.

David Allyn is a visual and performing artist whose work has rich connections to the Providence arts community. While earning an MFA in ceramics at RISD, he discovered Providence's lively, interdisciplinary arts community. He founded the ceramics studio at the Steel Yard, a nonprofit serving the sculpture and industrial arts community, and his ceramics draw on Providence's rich architectural history.

This is the twenty-third residency sponsored by the Britt Nelson Fund, which was established in 1998 to support Gordon's commitment to hands-on art education.

An excellent short documentary on David and his work is at


Week one of his residency, April 6-9

David Allyn is a visual and performing artist whose work has rich connections to the Providence arts community.

His April residency at Gordon is beginning online, which allows Gordon to share his work with an even wider audience. David is working with students in every grade, and will connect with them on campus when students return to Maxfield Avenue.

The first video in the playlist above is the short version of his introduction, shared with Nursery to fifth grade students on April 6th. The next video in the playlist is the longer version, which sixth, seventh and eighth graders saw. 

First week's assignment

All students are watching one of his introductory videos (above) and sketching their own designs - Nursery to fifth grade are designing cups based on this template, while sixth to eighth grade can chose to create a cup or another functional object.

Get a peek at their work in the video below, or view samples at your own pace on Gordon's Flickr page


Above: student responses to Dave Allyn's first video. If the embedded video does not play, use this link.


Week two of his residency, April 13-17

For week two, Dave provided two videos. They're embedded below, along with the prompts for students.

Above: Dave's first video from week two includes a visit to one of his studio neighbors. If the embedded video does not play, use this link.

This week we return to Dave’s studio to spend more time with our visiting artist and meet some of his friends. He will tell you about an art material you may already be familiar with and you will meet an artist who makes some unusual objects. 

Focus questions:
What is slip?
What is a slip casting?
What objects would you choose to make a slip casting of?
What is the final step in completing a slip casting?

After watching the video you can create a drawing to share if you are inspired! You can draw what object you would choose to make a slip casting of. Remember, the purpose of slip casting is to create several identical objects. If you were to create several of the same object, what would you do with them?


Above: for his second video of week two, Dave visits Sam White, who has several high-profile murals in Providence and East Providence. If the embedded video does not play, use this link

A second video this week introduces another artist whose work you are going to really love.

Here are some questions to think about while watching the video: 
Does Sam’s work look familiar; have you seen it around town? 
Have you ever made a tape mural? 
How is Sam using his art to express his support for other people during this time?

After watching the video, are you inspired to create your own mural?  If so, what would it be of? Where would it be located?  Would you use paint, tape or another material?  If you have time, share a drawing.

Week three of his residency, April 20-24

above: In a video shared with seventh and eighth graders, Dave begins explaining the process of making a platter. If the video embedded above does not play, use this link

This week Dave begins to make a piece of art work designed especially for the Gordon School. There is a lot to learn and a lot to marvel at in this video, so as always, try to watch more than once. You may have questions and you may be very inspired! Just like last week, we welcome your responses, but do not require you to turn in formal written homework. 

Your assignment: Watch and enjoy Dave’s video. This one is longer and more technical. Please keep the following focus questions in mind as you watch. We love receiving drawings inspired by Dave’s work, so please try to share them if you can. Please keep in touch by answering the questions that goes along with this lesson.

Focus questions:
Why does Dave consider his platters fine art?
What type of clay does Dave use for his platters? Why?
How does he roll his slabs?
What tools does Dave use to develop his designs?
How does Dave use the primary colors to create his image?
What imagery would you choose for the surface of a platter?
What aspects of Dave’s process were already familiar to you?
What was completely new to you?


above: a second video this week, meant for younger students, introduces the pottery wheel (and, along the way, the tools of a DJ). If the video embedded above does not play, use this link

Two familiar friends, Dave and Uncle Thirsty, invite you to explore an important tool: the potter’s wheel.  Watching a skilled artisan, like Dave, at work on a potter’s wheel is an amazing and beautiful treat.

Uncle Thirsty is not a potter, he is a disc jockey, or DJ for short. Do you know what a DJ does? He uses recorded music to entertain and delight people. He is a funny character we think you will enjoy. Read the focus questions below before you watch. If you have time, send along any sketches you are inspired to make, and any comments or questions that come to mind!

Focus questions:
What material does Dave use on his pottery wheel?
Do you know what a record is?  Do you know what a record player is?
How are a potter’s wheel and a record player alike?
Watch Dave’s hands as he works on his wheel. What words describe what you observe?


Week four of his residency, April 27-May 1

above: building on the previous week's video, Dave covers the second part of making a platter for seventh and eighth grade students. If the video embedded above does not play, use this link


above: a second video this week is meant for younger students. Dave introduces his studio neighbor, Fred, who uses processes similar to Dave's to create very different work. If the video embedded above does not play, use this link

Today Dave introduces another friend and fellow artist. Both Dave and Fred combine many tools and skills to create unique objects. Both these artists like to use printmaking processes to decorate clay vessels. As always, please take a look at the focus questions before viewing. As you know, we love to hear what you think after you make a visit to Dave’s studio!

Focus questions
Notice the tools and materials Fred uses:
What tools are very modern?
What skills does Fred show you using his hands?
What machines does Fred use in his studio?
Does Fred use slip in his work?
What words describe the objects Fred creates in his studio

Week five of his residency: May 4-8

above: in this video, Dave finally applies the ink to the wet clay of the platter, revealing a preview of the final image. If the embedded video above does not play, please use this link


Week six of his residency: May 11-15

above: this week, students began sending in their own drawings of the front of their beloved campus


above: Dave's residency has been filled with field trips; in this one, he visits the industrial arts center The Steel Yard, where he helped found the ceramics program. If the embedded video above does not work, use this link


above: this video is step four of the five-video series on making a platter. In this one, he recaps the steps so far, and uses the pottery wheel to finish the structure of the platter,. Next week: the final firing! If the embedded video does not play, use this link


above: a second look at the pottery wheel, a key tool for David. If the embedded video above does not work, use this link


week seven of his residency: May 18-22

above: the big reveal! This video is step five of the five-video series on making a platter, in which the final product is fired and finished. If the embedded video above does not play, use this link


above: in today's episode, Dave visits his studio neighbor and learns about 3-D printing. If the embedded video above does not play, use this link


above: Dave visits his studio neighbor, Jess Brown, a charismatic interdisciplinary artist. Look for some Gordon faces as part of a project Ms. Brown did at the RISD Museum, around the 0:35 second mark. If the embedded video above does not play, use this link

About the program


This program brings professional artists into Gordon’s classrooms. Students work alongside these artists, who lead them through projects that mirror the process of the artist’s own work. While learning new skills, students draw larger lessons from these professionals, individuals who have found a way to stay engaged in the arts, and in the world of ideas, throughout their adult lives.

As part of the residency, each visiting artist gives a presentation to all three divisions of the school. These presentations are open, so that parents, alumni and the general public can share the Gordon students’ experience.

The Britt Nelson Fund was established in 1996 in memory of Britt Nelson, the mother of three Gordon students and wife of a Gordon graduate. Income from this fund provides for an annual visiting artist, giving Gordon students an opportunity to immerse themselves in one of Britt’s quiet passions: the creative world of self-expression. The fund also provides for two annual faculty travel grants.


Since 1998

Since its founding, the Britt Nelson Fund has brought the following artists to Gordon’s classrooms:

1998 Painter Melissa Miller
1999 Glass artist Ursula Huth
2000 Storyteller and illustrator Baba Wagué Diakité
2001 Architect Roddy Langmuir
2002 Textile artist Jeung Hwa Park
2003 Sculptor Allison Newsome
2004 Sculptor Kitty Wales
more about the 2004 program
2005 Photographer Marian Roth 
more about the 2005 program
2006 Puppeteers Dusan Petran and Aniece Novak
2007 Designer Gunnel Sahlin
2008 Painter and printmaker Joseph Norman
2009 Sculptor Ben Anderson
Illustrator Amy Bartlett Wright
Illustrator Julie Ann Collier
more about the 2009 program
2010 Illustrator Bert Kitchen
featured in this video 
2012 Metalworker Jim Reynolds
2013 Bookmaker Rebecca Goodale
more about the 2013 program
2014 Ceramicist Seth Rainville
more about the 2014 program
2015 Animator Hayley Morris
more about the 2015 program
2016 Textile artist Hiroko Harada
more about the 2016 program
2017 Designer Gunnel Sahlin
more about the 2017 program
2018 Textile artist Brooke Erin Goldstein
more about the 2018 program
2019 Goldsmith Steven Lubecki
more about the 2019 program