As a high school student, Mason Cloud thought that no college located way out in western Kansas would be worth considering. However, based on his art teacher’s recommendation, he decided to visit Fort Hays State University.
When he got to campus, he was amazed by what he found.
“It was the most beautiful college campus I had ever seen,” Mason said. Soon after arriving, he took a faculty-led walking tour of campus. When they reached the end of the tour, Mason recalls asking his faculty tour guide who would be his professor if he chose to study ceramics. She replied that she would be his teacher. His tour guide that day, and his mentor to this day, was ceramics professor Linda Ganstrom.
Fast forward four years and a soon-to-graduate artist Mason Cloud is presenting at the annual John Heinrichs Scholarly and Creative Activity Day (SACAD). SACAD celebrates scholarly, research, and creative activity at FHSU. This year, students, faculty, and staff shared more than 100 scholarly and research posters and works of art.
Among the paintings, drawings, and sculptures, Mason Cloud presented one of the more intricate pieces of ceramics at SACAD this year. The piece, titled “Victory Vessel,” is a tall vase-like creation that features elegant arms that you might find on a sports trophy, heavy chains that extend from top to bottom of the piece, and a topper of small saucers and cylinders that resemble barnacles. The piece looks like it is made from a combination of copper and rusty iron, but the satiny metallic finishes are the result of a high-temperature glazing process that involves sodium carbonate, otherwise known as soda ash. When subjected the intense heat, the ash turns to glass, giving the glaze a mottled and sleek finish. Mason said that if he knew how much a detailed understanding of chemistry would be a part of working in ceramics, he would have paid more attention in high school chemistry class.
This piece is special to Mason Cloud. It commemorates his victory over more than a decade of mental health challenges. It also represents how art can be a catalyst for healing. He will graduate this month with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Mason wants to become an art therapist and put his talents as an artist and the lessons he has learned from his journey to mental health to work helping others. According to Psychology Today magazine, art therapy involves using creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help people express themselves artistically and examine their art’s psychological and emotional undertones.
Mason firmly believes in the value of mental health counseling from personal and family experiences.
“I had this constant sense of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself, and at times it was just overwhelming,” Mason said. He found solace in the artistic expression of ceramics and from long skateboard tours around campus in the wee hours of the morning. From this form of self-help, Mason eventually started to think less about what drove his negative feelings and persistent anxiety. He began to appreciate that his life was actually pretty good.
“I had great friends, and life with my family had never been better. After struggling for years, I finally began to open up about things that I had closed off previously,” Mason said. Halfway through his junior year, Mason’s proactive self-help approach opened the door to seeking the counseling help he still needed.
“I went into each session ready to open up about the challenges I was facing and with a clear idea of the questions I wanted to explore,” Mason said.
Mason will graduate from FHSU this week with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. He then plans to enroll in the Master of Science degree program in family therapy at Friends University in Wichita. He hopes to pay forward the mental health recovery he experienced from working with his therapist.
Mason, the future therapist, is not about to step away from his work as an artist, so how exactly does his remarkable artistry find its way into his future work as a marriage and family therapist? That is yet to be seen, but he sees great promise in helping others create their own victory vessel, their own expression of their emotions and experiences through artistic expression.
Tisa Mason is president of Fort Hays State University.