Ernie Satchell

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Renowned sculptor Ernie Satchell was born and raised in Birds Nest, a tiny town on the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Ernie Satchell:
"Growing up I was exposed to all kinds of carpentry tools because of my father. We grew up on a farm that belonged to my mother's family. My brother and I, we built our own toys. I learned a lot form doing that. We had a lot of failures. We had successes. But I learned what would and wouldn't work. And so, I was good a configuring things. I didn't realize how valuable it was until I got into sculpture and I was making armatures and doing all kinds of things. And so you'd be surprised what you know that you are not aware that you know. What it amounted to was problem solving on several levels."

"I used to love comic books so I started doing drawings form comics. And, I became pretty good at it. In ninth grade biology we had these drawings to do amoeba, protozoa and so forth. So I started doing them and I was doing them in India ink and it got the attention of some of the teachers. My biology teacher liked them so much he gave me the entire bulletin board to do. I filled it with about 30 drawings which attracted some attention from the principal, and so I was encouraged to pursue art."

"I attended Northampton County High School, graduating in 1959 when the schools were still segregated. Northampton CHS was the only school for blacks. They did not have an art program until about two years after I graduated. I left Northampton County to come to Maryland State College (now UMES) that was my first experience taking art courses."

Ernie wanted to become an architect in part because most of the men in his family were in the building business. At that time the only school that was open to him to study architecture was a private college and too expensive. So Ernie did what he says was the next best thing and that was to study art education at Maryland College which is now UMES. It was there that he fell in love with ceramics after being inspired by a visiting professor named Dr. Kenneth Bidle.

After graduating from college Ernie taught high school art for one year before enlisting in the Navy. When he got out he had a job as an illustrator for the Boeing Aircraft Company in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania. Jimmy Mosley his professor at Maryland College contacted him about a faculty position opening there and so Ernie came home to the Eastern Shore and has been here ever since. He taught at what is now UMES for 39 years. Once back at his alma mater Ernie took up working in clay as his primary medium of expression.

Ernie Satchell:
"I started with the large vessels. When Dr. Bidle was here he taught us the process of inverse stacking. What you would do is throw two vessels as tall as you could. You would allow them to stiffen. But you would keep the edges the same thickness. And when they were stiff enough you would flip them over and join the edges. So you get a pot twice as tall as you would normally throw."

Even larger pots can be created when the vessels are created with coils of clay. Each coil is laid like bricks on top of each other while they are still pliable and are stretched to create vessels that are several feet tall. The biggest he has created was about 62 inches high because that is the limitation of the kiln he fires his work in. Ernie says when he is building the large urns he likes creating long elegant necks.

Ernie Satchell:
"I've always had an appreciation for classical pottery. I like smooth flowing lines, the s curves and so forth. I like to see the rhythm in the pot. I tend not to do a lot of contemporary things that… I've never been a faddish person."

Ernie used what he learned from the large pots when he began to create life sized ceramic sculptures of people. His first was a self portrait he did while studying for his masters at Towson University. The Lyric Opera House in Baltimore had given the students spaces in their lobby to fill for an annual art festival.

Though retired from teaching Ernie still maintains a studio at UMES. He is currently working on a series of bronze sculptures honoring the most venerated UMES Presidents of for a sculpture garden where their mall of flags is now. The center piece will be a large full figure sculpture of Dr. William Hytche, who Ernie says along with some of the others saved UMES at a time when enrollment had dropped dangerously low.

Ernie's dedication to this project, which will take a number of years to complete, is just one example of the passion he feels for his calling as an artist.

Ernie Satchell:
"When you work in art it's just like dance. It looks so easy when you see someone else do it. They go on stage and they stay on stage for a short period of time. And you think, for a ballet dancer, they make a lot of money for such a small performance. But then you look back and you think how many years did it take for them to get there? So it's a determination and a drive. You have to feel passionate about what you are doing. If you feel passionate you will do that regardless."

"You know people that like to sing, even though they might be doing construction work; they will sing at every opportunity they get. They will sing in church. They'll sing in groups. They'll sing at any opportunity they get because they are driven to sing. And that's the way it is with art. I always liked doing things I was challenged by. If something didn't work I wouldn't quit. I would just keep trying over and over again."

Ernie's work can be seen on the campus of UMES in Princess Anne. He is also a member of the Clay Guild of the Eastern Shore. Find out more at: