Williamson Gallery at Scripps Hosts Serendipity: Paul Soldner, Artist and Provocateur

Through Dec. 11, 2011, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery is displaying Serendipity: Paul Soldner, Artist and Provocateur. Paul Soldner (1924–2011) was an influential teacher at Scripps College, but the exhibit also presents the many other facets of his life. The exhibit attempts to reveal to the community the other interests of Soldner.

“He was more than just an educator, more than an artist. He was all those things… He taught students how to think,” Collection Manager Kirk Delman said of Soldner. “He used to say there aren’t any rules, there’s only concepts… once you understand the concept, you can make up your own rules, and you should.”

In the center of the exhibit is a bonsai. Soldner was interested in bonsai—he grew them for more than 40 years, and the shape of the bonsai has influenced some of his work. Surrounding the bonsai are photographs taken by Soldner when he served as a medic during World War II. He helped to liberate the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. This experience was life changing for Soldner, and finding beauty in the art created by prisoners, he was influenced to pursue his passion for art.

On Soldner’s experimentation with different art techniques, Delman commented, “I think he just wanted to change the scale.” One characteristic of Soldner’s work is extended throwing, a technique that allowed him to create pots that were eight feet tall. He also became known as the father of American raku. Raku is a traditional Japanese firing technique, associated with the tea ceremony. Soldner developed the American raku technique at Scripps, and instead of cooling the materials as the Japanese traditionally do, he would put his product into another combustible material, such as paper, leaves, or wood chips. American raku also contains an element of surprise, as the appearance of colors and imprints are unpredictable. Delman also spoke of how Soldner taught students.

“He would say, ‘Well, just try it’ rather than ‘This is how you do it.’ ” In order to introduce American raku to students and other artists, Soldner hosted many workshops around the country.

In his own work, Soldner used imagery and pop culture references. Using collages, he cut out forms, some of which became more visible, while others remained more blurred and abstract. In one piece, Soldner depicts John Lennon and a figure cut out of Playboy. Soldner was fascinated by the human body and was particularly interested in the female form, which is reflected in the collection. He created advertisements for the ceramics equipment he developed that became quite popular as he employed creative slogans and somewhat risqué photos.

At the Claremont Colleges, students can take ceramics classes and try experimenting with American raku. The museum is hosting a raku workshop Nov. 12, open to all in the community. The gallery is open to the public, free of charge, from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, contact the gallery at (909) 607-3397. For those interested in upcoming exhibits and events at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, visit http://rcwg.scrippscollege.edu/category/exhibitions.

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