Baltimore Clayworks 35th Anniversary Show reviewed by Rachel Bone
With seemingly no more in common than the earth from which they came, the Baltimore Clayworks 35th Anniversary show presents ceramic objects by 100+ artists with connections to the workshop, gallery, and residency in Mt. Washington. This wide-ranging exhibit brings together resident artists past and present, teachers, interns, exhibitors, staff, and students. Offering no discernible theme or aesthetic, the pieces in the show are somehow cohesive together just by their connection to the facility, which has supported tremendously different work over its lifetime. This particular grouping is without bias toward the utilitarian or the experimental and work ranges from traditional vessel to surrealist sculpture. The list of successful artists willing to participate in a show celebrating this non-profit clay arts facility, some of them years after they’ve crossed its path, suggests that community is the emphasis of this show as well as this unique organization.
Regarding a three dimensional show from the standpoint of a purely two dimensional artist, I worried about being romanced by surface pattern and glaze while missing arguably more impressive vessels, not fully understanding the skill it takes to build architecturally. So I challenged myself to prioritize form over finish on my first walk-through. As a result, I found myself more moved by form than I’d thought.
Richard Holt’s striking “I have a secret” mysteriously towers in the second room, a simple gray stoneware backlit by a large window. Reminiscent of Juan Munoz’ almost whimsical “Last Conversation Piece” outside the Hirshhorn Museum, Holt’s more deliberately stationary piece suggests more intense, grown up secrets. Helen Otterson’s “Kecskemét Bloom” presents a subversively sexual abstract piece, emitting pink strands out an upper orifice. Vaguely foreign via its title, after a Hungarian city of the same name, the piece appears to be made of plaster and resin. Since it is actually crafted from porcelain and glass, it achieves a secretive sort of preciousness.
Leigh Taylor Mickelson offers her wall-mounted “Botanical series” reminding me dreamily of Baltimore painter Nicole Shiflet’s work. Eileen Greene Braun’s “Splash Bowl Trio” (pictured at top) in the last room, gleams with implied movement, a simple but spectacular monument to physics that belies sentimentality. Meanwhile, Travis Winters flips the bird to traditional use of the medium as functional, with “Because I Can,” a cigarette-smoking beast, blasting a ceramic pillar of steam out its back like a whale and snarling at the more tame, classic ceramics around it.
There are beautiful things in the show you’ll picture in your house for everyday use, others you’d only dream of using. There are some that should belong only in a museum or gallery, that offer no practical or realistic use. Despite their differences, they coalesce into an appealing mash-up, proving that clay can be manipulated in infinite ways, certainly an apt theme for a 35 year old institution attempting to promote that very idea.
While wandering through the gallery a second time, I ran into a student taking a break from working across the street in the studio. Curious, I asked if she had favorites in the show. To my surprise, she dragged me to a small pot I’d walked straight past, made by the show’s curator and Clayworks co-founder/ former director Deborah Bedwell. She pointed out the painterliness of the glaze: watery green leaves on what she insisted I concede was the perfect size and shape teapot. Despite being less my own style, the more I stared, the more architecturally perfect it became. She went on to show me a few more traditional vessels, all of which she complimented for their outstanding glaze work, making me laugh off my original concern that I’d be biased towards nice finishes. It turns out glaze is often harder to control than the clay itself, which made me do one more walk-through to ponder that.
For a facility that aims to include all levels of ceramic enthusiast, this show succeeds in promoting ‘something for everyone’ within the medium, making it as accessible and enticing as intended. The physical accumulation of 35 years of history in one place serves to embody the values and generate an appreciation that goes far beyond learning more about the medium itself. This exhibit is worth a look, and then a few more.
Baltimore Clayworks 35th Anniversary Show is open through October 10, 2015. Gallery Hours and more info on their website at baltimoreclayworks.org.
Author Rachel Bone is an artist and business owner based in Baltimore. Her gouache paintings have been exhibited and collected internationally and prints are available locally at Trohv in Hampden. Her hand printed apparel company, Red Prairie Press, designs and sells its hand-printed, earth-conscious clothing at craft fairs across the country and wholesale to 45 stores worldwide. You can find Red Prairie Press clothing at Double Dutch Boutique.