The changing landscape of ice and snow on the planet gave rise to this piece. Each day, ice placed inside the forms melted creating unpredictable changes in the nine unfired clay structures. Over the two-week duration of the exhibition, the evolving decay in the forms was closely documented. On the final day of the show, the forms that remained were removed and the unfired clay recycled.
It is thought provoking to visualize what occurs as ice melts and becomes water. The sagging, slowly decaying clay structures, so contained in this temporary work, revealed the relentless, erratic nature of water. The global forces at work are likewise persistent and have already wrought devastating change.
Braille is used in my artwork to address cultural, political, and social blindness. The title was written in Braille and wrapped across each of the clay forms.
It's Not Neither
It’s Not Neither, 2016
Porcelain, pit fired
8’ X 38’
In What is Whiteness1,Nell Painter remarked: “The useful part of white identity’s vagueness is that whites don’t have to shoulder the burden of race in America, which, at the least, is utterly exhausting.” Witnessing that exhaustion is deeply distressing. I reflect often on my white identity, its origins and consequences. Her essay was the impetus for my recent ceramic installation It’s Not Neither, incorporating Braille. The title references Zen philosophy’s inquiry concerning the nature of existence, examining whether our experiences are real or an illusion concluding “its not neither.” The philosophy holds that there is no duality at the heart of existence, that it’s neither reality nor illusion; we live in a relationship containing inseparably the complexity, contentiousness, conundrums, and wonders of experience. In this politically expressive project, I make the point that we cannot separate conversations about race in America into strict categories of “white” or “black.” Race, like meaning in art, is culturally constructed. Racial inequality is a persistent blind spot in our otherwise forward-thinking and democratic society.
Porcelain was chosen to produce the Braille text discs; it is prized for its purity, elegance, and whiteness and is associated with hierarchies of value in our culture. Using the primitive technology of pit firing, multiple shades of greys, blacks, and off-whites formed on the discs. This firing process subverts the history attached to porcelain and the resulting color range reflects my view that all humanity is inseparably bound together. Alchemical by its nature, clay persists in holding our interest, compelling intellectual, visceral, and provocative responses to contemporary cultural issues.
1. What is Whiteness, Nell Irvin Painter, NY Times Review, June 20, 2015
Braille text on the wall:
Joan says we need to raise each other’s kids. Mark says the contrived stereotype must not control the narrative. Will we listen; see ourselves in one another?
On our planet are substances we exploit to great benefit and unforeseen consequences. I have chosen nine to consider: blood (aids research, ethnic cleansing); salt (chemicals, oceans); gold (currency, mining); air (flight, environmental degradation); soil (food, contamination); DNA (genetics, overpopulation); corn (food, bio-fuels); oil (energy, fertilizer); and water (manufacturing, supply). Commodities, resources, and ideas move easily and rapidly across national boundaries. Will we evolve the social intelligence to better balance our technological intelligence? Can we continue exploiting resources without dire ramifications? Our deep history as makers on the planet is one we honor; what are we choosing to be making today?
60” X 30” X 24”
Braille text on the wall: An Iraqi speaking to an American journalist said, “You took the cotton from our mouths but you put it in your ears.”
Porcelain, laser printed decals
Poem courtesy of Debra Marquart
11” X 28” x 12”
And so you came to realize that a married man
is like a drowning victim, when you find him
drenched, adrift and unhappy in the vast ocean
of his marriage, and you will always be the first
to spot him, a floating speck on the horizon
flapping his arms for rescue, desperate mouth
ringing an o above the rolling crests and waves.
You are on the high dry deck of the cruise ship
In your espadrilles and crisp white shorts,
aren’t you the beacon, aren’t you the life preserver.
Danny Shechtman’s recent Nobel Prize in chemistry for quasicrystal discovery was electrifying. The Penrose tile pattern beneath the chair is made with sand sifted over tiles to reveal the spaces between the tiles. Penrose tile patterns are aperiodic in a manner similar to quasicrystals. The form of the pattern, a large question mark, reflects the base of inquiry common to scientists, artists, humanists, and expresses doubt and hope.
Each of the Geodes on the chair includes nine substances in a porcelain package; gold leaf was applied after firing. This piece addresses issues related to these: blood (aids, ethnic cleansing); salt (salary, oceans); gold (currency, mining); air (environmental degradation); soil (contamination, ownership); DNA (cloning, overpopulation); corn (bio-fuels, food); oil (energy, fertilizer); and water (access, supply). We have exploited each to great benefit but with challenging consequences.
She Was the Best Listener
Paula Cowgill Gmelch Memorial
Lagomarcino Courtyard, Iowa
State University, Ames, Iowa
Stoneware, 52” x 25” x 25”
In March of 2009, Walt Gmelch asked if I would create a sculpture in memory of his late wife Paula; a great honor. Their son Ben's eulogy and correspondence with Walt provided ideas for the piece
a stack of books with titles selected by family members, topped with a basin to catch rainwater. Perennial flowers would bloom in the adjacent planters; the title came from Ben's words; ‘my mom was the best listener I ever knew’. Using Curious George and Peter Pan and the Tiger to begin the stack honored Paula's love of children and her engagement with early childhood education. Little Women played an important role in Paula's (and in my own) early life as a reader. I did take some liberties with proportions to create a more dynamic overall composition.
7’ x 24’ x 7”, stoneware
Lagomarcino Hall Courtyard
Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
An initial concept drawing by Gail Kristensen had been created for this mural and when she was unable to materialize the project, I was selected in 2003 to develop and complete the commission. I elected to work from Kristensen’s plan, making several modifications in the composition and redesigning the installation to create a continuous ceramic work. Students worked with me on this project, which was installed after nearly two years of fabrication and firing.
For this project memorializing Babe Voertmann I read letters and a video to gain deeper understanding of this unique woman. She was a dynamic, vibrant, expressive, playful and deeply intelligent dance instructor at the college. Her impact on students’ lives impressed me. My response incorporated references to the body, to movement and a whimsical element.
Patterns for Life
Patterns For Life, 1998
12’ x 15’
ceramic tiles with wood surround
Wallace Foundation Learning and Outreach Center
The challenge in this project was to construct a mural that would fit onto a curved wall. An exact replica of the wall was built in my studio and the tiles fabricated on the curved surface. Custom underglazes were created for the colors. The imagery reflected the strong graphic lines that are part of the row crop landscape on the Armstrong research farm. A contest was held to name the mural and a local couple were the lucky winners.