70th Scripps Ceramics Annual Showcases Curators’ Artwork

“ReConstructed Cups #2” by Douglas Humble looks fragile: Shards of porcelain mugs fan out from a seemingly precarious base. Porcelain evokes such an image of delicacy that it is difficult to imagine these shards staying put. 

Yet the piece is bold and
defiant. Graphic patterns on the shards work together to evoke this contrast between fragility and boldness, with unapologetic images juxtaposed against dainty ones. 

The piece is one of 60 at Scripps College’s Ceramics Annual, the
“longest-running exhibition of contemporary ceramics in the United States,”
according to professor Mary MacNaughton, the director and co-curator of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. The exhibition, which is in its 70th year, contains works dating back from the World War II period onward.

The American Museum of Ceramic Art called the Scripps Ceramic Annual the “best-kept secret” for its “achievements as a collecting institution.” Perhaps the most defining achievement of the Ceramics Annual, however, is that it
is artist-curated.

But the 2014 exhibition is different from past exhibitions because it
turns the lens on its artist curators by displaying their own work. The art
of previous Scripps ceramics professors William Manker (1945-46), Richard
Petterson (1947-1958), Paul Soldner (1951-1991), and Nobuho Nagasawa
(1992-1995) are honored. 

The exhibition also honors artists outside of Scripps, who first began guest
curating in 1996. This year’s exhibition features the works of 16 outside artists, who hail from California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, South
Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

Housing 20 artists’ works in a single room is
an impressive feat. What is perhaps even more difficult, and what the gallery pulls
off gracefully, is balancing space and attention. This is achieved
even as each artist challenges the limits of the art form and traditional
notions of ceramics in their own style. 

“It is incredibly inspiring to see in person,” said Kyle Vanstrum PO ’16, a student who saw last year’s Ceramics Annual. 

Approaches range from Humble’s
manipulation of “familiar” ceramics by using porcelain mugs in his “ReConstructed Cups” series, to Cindy
Kolodziejski’s deployment of more varied types of media in “Portraits of Sorts and
Curiosities,” from Adam Davis’ eerily realistic birds whose material he identifies as “faux taxonomy,” to the
nostalgic beeswax-enhanced creations of Phyllis Green. 

The show is made even more striking by its colors: Adrian Saxe’s rich blues, Wayne Higby’s deep watercolor red, and Virginia
Scotchie’s terrifically pigmented work, which recalls the hues in a box of glitter crayons. 

Since each artist has worked behind the scenes on past Ceramics Annuals, they have stories to tell about the show. 

Kirk Delman, the collection manager and co-curator, spoke about how an earthquake struck right before the
opening of the 46th Annual, resulting in “a kind of ceramic

The exhibition, he said, opened “with artworks broken and strewn across
the gallery floor.” 

Paul Soldner, who was the curator at the time, said, “It is what happens
when clay and earthquakes are combined.” 

The exhibition’s past themes have included Karen
Koblitz’s “EcoRhythmics: Color and Texture
in Clay,” which connected ecology with the rhythm of patterns, forms, and colors found in nature. Tony Marsh’s “Acts of Faith
and Adventure” called on artists to make monumental pieces that were less
marketable, yet powerful.

The Ceramics Annual’s
historical emphasis on artist-curators has made it a catalyst for the
development of ceramics as an art form. It is an environment that supports and thrives on the
introduction of new artists and trends. 

Delman discussed the exhibition’s tradition of community-building, remembering
how “students, artists, and collectors, both young and old, mingled, danced,
told stories, and rekindled friendships.”

This tradition continues, manifesting in support for the exhibition each year: “The Ceramics Annual’s opening remains one of the most eagerly
awaited and well-attended ceramics events in California,” Delman said.

According to Jan
Blair, the gallery receptionist, 621 people attended
this year’s opening.

The Ceramic Annual will run Wednesdays through Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. until April 6 at the Ruth
Chandler Williamson Art Gallery. Admission is free.

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