South Mississippi Strong: Upside-down potter teaches innovation, engineering through art

South Mississippi Strong: Upside-down potter teaches innovation, engineering through art

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Through STEM programs, young Americans are motivated to specialize in science, technology, engineering and math.

A Hancock County artist with an engineering background is taking an unique approach to pottery and using it as a platform to teach innovation, mechanics, and art.

Steve Barney shapes pottery at a demonstration for Hancock High students.
Steve Barney shapes pottery at a demonstration for Hancock High students. (Source: Photo WLOX)

Steve Barney is a mechanical engineer who also happens to make pottery. But it’s how he creates his artwork that is innovative and unique. He calls it the STEAMpunk Pottery Project.

Steve invented and built what he calls the world’s most powerful pottery machine. His design features an array of seemingly random mechanical parts represents a unique approach to teaching.

“It’s a collection of motors, belts, mannequin arms, and antique machinery," explained Barney. “I go around to libraries, schools and festivals, teaching kids about science and engineering through the experience of pottery.”

Barney is committed to encouraging students to discover the importance of STEM-related fields. It’s become a national effort to make America competitive in the world.

"We’re falling behind in our global leadership of teaching kids to become engineers. This is a way to really stimulate kids and get them turned on to science and engineering in a way they would not be otherwise. " Barney said.

Steve Barney hangs upside down during a community event at the 100 Men Hall earlier this year.
Steve Barney hangs upside down during a community event at the 100 Men Hall earlier this year. (Source: Mike Lacy)

A group of ninth graders at Hancock High School were invited to see Steve’s presentation, which is almost like a performance.

Climbing on top of his his pottery machine, Steve turned to the group, asking if they want to see him hang upside-down. After an enthusiastic ‘yes’ from the students, Steve hoisted himself up, flipped upside-down, and began making pottery.

“This takes an incredible amount of core strength and a complete lack of common sense,” Barney joked.

The kids didn’t expect Steve to hoist himself up, turn upside down and actually make pottery, but the unorthodox lesson definitely caught their attention.

“All the kids love this," Steve said. “Everyone stops texting and takes videos, putting it on Snapchat, Youtube or Facebook. It goes viral on social media.”

Ninth grade student Sincere Thompson got a kick out of it. “It has to do with science because you can make stuff and produce it. It’s cool.”

Potter Steve Barney uses his head to shape bowls.
Potter Steve Barney uses his head to shape bowls. (Source: Photo WLOX)

Hayden Grogg also thought the unusual lesson is cool, as well as useful. “A lot of it played into the equation of STEM. It’s what we’re learning in class right now, building and stuff."

Another quirky way Steve Barney creates artwork: using his head to make bowls out of clay. It’s an unending mission to encourage students to appreciate science and art.

“It’s a great thing for me. I don’t have kids of my own so in a way I’m passing on this legacy,” Steve said.

Steve is the director of the Bay St. Louis Creative Arts Center and is also very active in projects to protect the environment in Hancock County.

To see more of work from Steve’s STEAMpunk Pottery Project, as well as where he’ll be performing next, check out his Facebook page.

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