Learning from Exhibitions: Shades of Clay

By Johnson, Mark M. | Arts & Activities, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Learning from Exhibitions: Shades of Clay


Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities


SHADES OF CLAY A Multi-cultural Look at Contemporary Clay

Courtesy of Paul Andrew Wandless, Curator, and participating artists. Tour development by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri.

Clay has been employed as a material for building, shaping and decorating from the earliest days that man roamed the Earth. Fragments of clay pots and objects can be traced to the Neolithic Period, around 5,000 B.C. Its earliest use cannot truly be identified with any single culture or region since the use of the material developed in every early civilization, in all areas of the world, from Asia to the Middle East to Europe to the Americas and elsewhere.

As a raw material, clay was useful, but it needed to be shaped, dried, polished, fired and glazed to become practical and durable. As man evolved into a hunter and farmer, clay was employed to make containers to store and transport food items and liquids. Pots also became important in religious and burial rites. Soon new uses were discovered and the use of clay became integral to the development of civilization.

In the 21st century, clay remains as one of the world's most accessible materials and is still a significant part of most people's lives. In America, we encounter it in the bricks of our houses, in the dishes we use for storing and serving food, in the objects that decorate our homes, throughout our bathrooms and in a vast array of industrial and commercial uses.

Throughout history, clay has varied infinitely in its composition, construction, technical processes, appearance, function and appreciation. As an art form alone, millions upon millions of objects have been created and those that remain can be seen and admired in museums and galleries around the world. Clay can be handbuilt, thrown on a wheel, poured in a mold or shaped into a sculpture. Indeed, many objects cast in another medium (bronze, for example) often were first made from clay. It is a wonderfully plastic and expressive medium. Every country, every region, every period, every generation and every person reacts to the medium of clay differently. A new traveling exhibition offers yet another approach to consider. Shades of Clay: A Multi-Cultural Look at Contemporary Clay, curated by Paul Andrew Wandless, attempts to present and celebrate the multicultural and multiethnic elements of clay artworks and their creators.

The objects in this presentation purport to demonstrate that artists are inspired or influenced, directly or intuitively, by culture and ethnicity. This exhibit features contemporary work by artists that are African-American, AfroCuban, Thai, Chinese, Moorish, Chicano, Latino, Native American and Cuban.

Clearly an artist's style can derive from his/her heritage, religion and geography; but in the 21st century, it gets more complicated. People, ideas and imagery are no longer static, and an artist of one ethnicity might easily, directly or indirectly, be impacted by styles, themes, techniques and aesthetics of others. …

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