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"History in the Making VII: Ceramic Traditions, Contemporary Objects"

Creative work doesn't exist in a vacuum, and artists often draw influence and inspiration from history and from the world around them. The work presented in the Firehouse Gallery at Genesee Pottery's current show, the 7th Annual "History in the Making" exhibit, offers a sample of contemporary vessels, figurative works, and decorative objects that were created with some influence from past ideas, aesthetics, and methods.

Each year, the folks at Genesee Pottery place an ad with Ceramics Monthly to call for art for the "History in the Making" exhibit. This year, 26 entries were selected for the show by Jean Schallenbarger, associate professor at School for American Crafts at RIT, who juried the show only from images of work sent in from all across the country with names and artist statements withheld. Genesee Center was proud to learn that works by two of its current artist residents, Sarah Heitmeyer and Katie Carey, as well as Genesee Pottery studio manager, Peter Pincus, were juried into the show.

Each of the works is accompanied by an artist statement that explains influences and inspiration, and often includes images of sample objects that influenced their works.

Pincus' sleek work is represented here with two entries: "Cup Set" is a pair of color-block-striped vessels, the painting contrasting with the organic slump at the bases, and "All or Nothing," a duo of flattened bulb shapes standing upright and painted with a spectrum of grays on one side and colors on the other. The provided info states that the artist's primary inspiration was the solid, bold works of color theorist and Bauhaus Professor Josef Albers. In particular, "Cup Set" was inspired by a wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, and "All or Nothing" was drawn from an Emilio Pucci dress, which were both influenced by Albers.

Genesee Pottery director Kate Whorton says that the show always offers some element from history that she hadn't encountered before. This time, the gem of human culture came in the form of "Doctor's Doll: Muscular System," by Carrie Anne Parks of Alma, Michigan. Parks drew her influence from the Chinese "doctor dolls," which served as patient surrogates in the 17th through 19th centuries, when decorum demanded that a female patient point out the source of an ailment to a doctor rather than allow him to examine her body directly.

The full-grown female figure is perhaps the size of an infant, and reclining coyly on a wooden stand atop a pedestal. She is glazed white and marked all over in blue, detailed brushwork that denotes her muscular system, and coated with a hard, glossy glaze, "rendered safely decorative and impervious to touch," per the artist statement.

Another figurative work included in the mix is "Busted," Elmira, New York, artist Colleen McCall's child-high portrait of her son that borrows elements from a Greek image of "an idolized trophy child that appears among illustrations of force and destruction" in the Parthenon. The concept of forcing a child to learn self-control amid such uncivilized behavior is an ironic one, then, and especially now in an age where children are exposed more and more to the untamed behavior of adults through their increased access to media. Here McCall has depicted the bust of her own child, defiantly poking his tongue out, chipped and painted in faded hues, atop a Doric column.

The show includes a wide range of vessels that vary vastly in style and purpose. Miami, Florida-based artist Daniel Listwan's striking "Biohazard Jasperware: Black Basalt Edition" series is an homage Josiah Wedgwood's Black Basalt line. Listwan's set of seven vessels resemble the influence in their velvety black surfaces and detailed relief pictures. But instead of depicting the neoclassical scenes, the gods and heroes of Wedgwood's wares, Listwan's subjects are skulls and magnified, fearsome life forms, including ebola, anthrax, yersinia pestis (Black Death), H5N1, and other biohazards, and the vessels themselves are tools of scientific research that might be seen in a lab.

Tony Wright, of Mobile, Alabama, created his "Olmec Face Jug" to demonstrate to his students a folk pottery tradition with roots in the Southeastern United States. The artist is also intrigued by stylized figurative sculptures of the Olmec culture in ancient Mexico, "several stone-carved figures depicting a shaman going through a process of transformation from human to jaguar," says Wright in the provided statement. The resulting vessel is a highly glossy, bronze head with cat ears, ferocious fangs, and an expression that seems to say, "Go ahead...steal my whiskey."

Dallas, Texas-based artist Brian Molanphy's "Bowl" nods to the delicately marbled clay wares developed by the French Moulin brothers in about 1776, which derived their decorative element not from the glaze but from the complex patterning worked into the clay body. Molanphy's beautiful, simple vessel is crawling with swirls of brown and white clay, and finished with a transparent glaze.

Pottery resident Katie Carey's "105 Bowls" is not what it sounds like — enough stoneware for a small community takes up the space that one large punch bowl might. The artist's statement says she wished to "strip the bowl of its inherent association in order to re-examine the simplistic form that has been passed down for nearly 10,000 years." Carey created dozens of bowls on the wheel, squished them, and pressed them together into a rippling half-sphere mounted on the wall, almost resembling a sun-bleached sea anemone — or the potter's equivalent of a writer's balled-up and cast-away pages.

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