Ceramics teacher still fired up about Placer artists

Community Portrait
By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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Placer High School ceramics teacher Toby Covich is completely at ease in his classroom on the hill. It’s a creative environment perfect for his high school ceramics students to feel comfortable, lose their artistic inhibitions, and create. A veteran teacher with more than 32 years at Placer, Covich wasn’t always sure that a career in education was what he wanted. His father, Jug Covich, was legendary in the district as a teacher, coach and administrator who began his career at Placer High School in 1950. The younger Covich would have quite a large pair of shoes to fill if he chose a career in education. “Before I got into ceramics, I drew and painted,” Covich said. “I had other interests though. I liked being outside and thought a career with the Fish and Game might be interesting. I also liked to ski, and I thought the ski industry might be interesting.” But being an art teacher has been a good fit for Covich, and he still enjoys coming to work, building quite a legacy at Placer of his own. Covich’s parents were big in Auburn’s local art scene as Covich was growing up. His mother, Barbara, let him tag along with her to art classes in town. In middle school at E.V. Cain he and a friend drew still-lifes during lunch and recess. At Placer, Covich did mixed-media projects, print-making, and by his sophomore year in 1970 was painting in Mario Ferrante’s advanced acrylic class. Ferrante began his career at Placer in 1966 and had fostered a new attitude in his classes, coinciding with the without boundaries exploding art scene in California of the ’60s and into the ’70s. “Mario really opened up with his teaching style. He put away his tie, he had an encouraging teaching style, and along with that he brought in an old stereo, introducing music into the classroom. He started all that,” Covich said. “He set a creative atmosphere for us.” This style of art was just perfect for Covich’s personality. At Sierra College after his graduation from Placer in 1972, Covich was exposed to a ceramics world that was going through a change from a craft to a fine-art form. Advanced by several prolific ceramic influences, his Sierra College ceramics teacher Jim Adamson was one of these teachers pushing the envelope with ceramic art. Later, at UC Davis, Covich would study under Bob Arneson, a leader in the new ceramics Northern California movement. Covich graduated from UC Davis in 1976 with a B.A. degree in studio art. Covich finished his teaching credentials at Humboldt State and did his student teaching at Von Humboldt High School in Eureka which housed the county juvenile detention center. “After being at Placer High School, working at juvenile hall was a real eye-opener,” he said. In 1977 Covich accepted a job at Placer in the art department as a ceramics teacher, which he still holds today. Covich heads the Placer High School Visual and Performing Arts Department and currently works with fellow art department teachers Tim Johnson, Larry Alberts and Elise Ryerson. “This department still follows Mario’s (Ferrante) philosophy of creating a supportive, non-threatening and encouraging environment,” Covich said. Most students enter Covich’s class with little or no art experience. “If you want real learning to take place you need to develop an honest and trusting relationship with the students, give them a little bit of buy-in, then we all learn and grow together,” Covich said. Covich has also coached the Placer Ski Team and spent years on the sidelines coaching boys and girls soccer at Placer. He lives in Applegate with his wife, Julie, loves to hunt, fish and ride his mountain bike. “This school and what it means to our community, you could not ask for a better place to live and raise a family,” Covich said