By Sarah Wibell
Walk through the galleries of the Contemporary Ceramics in Georgia exhibit at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center (MMCC) and get ready to be impressed. Colors – earthy, vibrant, or subdued. Texture – smooth, rough, or intricately patterned. The functional and the decorative are set side by side or combined as one. Everyday objects are reimagined, and the art both displays and evokes emotion.
These reactions are exactly what Mitzi Prochnow, MMCC Visual Arts Chairperson and curator of the exhibit, wants visitors to experience. Bringing the work of these seven artists to the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center has been a longtime goal. “I would hope that this show might delight our visitors, challenge their emotions, and transport them to another space for a little bit of time in their day.”
And it does. Some works, particularly a visually stunning series by Alice Woodruff featuring a crow, evoke mixed feelings from viewers. Woodruff, who is considered a master of her craft by fellow artists, uses ceramics as a means to cope with the grief of her son’s suicide in 2003 at the age of 18.
In her artist statement, Woodruff says, “I have always felt that a bit of my subconscious self is transferred to the objects I created. In my current work, clay pieces will change and evolve in ways mysterious to me. At times, these objects seem to have a life of their own. I am sometimes disturbed by the images that arise in the work but I have come to realize that this is part of my healing process and that grief can be a powerful outlet for creativity.”
At the opening reception, Prochnow noted that some attendees felt those same emotions “from within the pieces” as they experienced the “compelling emotion of loss and pain [that] is undeniable.”
While Woodruff’s works can be simultaneously beautiful and unsettling, each of the other artists also expresses their sentiments through the stoneware. Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier draws upon her archival research at Emory University on photographs of African Americans in the 1800s to create art and narratives relating to these unidentified individuals. Meanwhile, in the gallery room across the hall, Elizabeth Collins creates not only faces of Gullah women, but also provides each one with a name, selected by the artist, and a narrative written by Collins’ mother.
Every piece in the exhibit speaks to the passion and dedication of the artist to his or her craft. Vibrant colors and intricate patterns cover every inch of Charity Hofert’s ceramics. “They make me so happy,” Prochnow admits with a smile. Although display pieces are not meant to be touched, one of Hofert’s covered jars has a rattle inside the lid handle. The result is a delightfully functional piece of art that is both visual and audible. In contrast, natural, earthy, and organic tones are found in both large and smaller wheel thrown and hand-built functional pottery by retired UGA professor of environmental studies, Diane Davies.
While Prochnow finds traditional ceramics to be more functional and, often, not as conceptual, contemporary ceramics are thought of as a “modern expression of ancient forms”. Rick Berman’s work exemplifies this. He received an MFA in ceramics from UGA in 1973 and was a founder of the ceramics program at Callenwolde Art Center in Atlanta. In addition to teaching in countries around the world, Berman has studied and documented ceramic artists in India over a span of nearly three decades. His combined raku and salt glazing techniques are influenced by traditional Japanese pottery.
Zuzka Vaclavik has also been shaped by the art of other cultures. A dual citizen of the United States and Slovakia, the artist studied painting in Germany then moved to the Far East and Cambodia for growth and development before coming to the states for graduate studies. Some of Vaclavik’s ceramic pieces can take months to complete as they are first turned on the wheel and then hand-built.
Feelings and emotions evoked through visual art are compelling, and this show invites a second visit. When you return, come back at another time of day or in different weather. Your experience will be different as the natural light will change the illumination of the stoneware’s angles and colors. The afternoon light on the ceramic glazes, said Prochnow, is “really special.”
The show runs through April 9 and may be viewed Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. MMCC invites you to attend its free gallery talk and reception on Feb. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.