Cary Esser – Keynote
Born and raised in North Carolina, Esser first studied ceramics at the Penland School of Crafts. She later earned a B.F.A. at the Kansas City Art Institute (1978) and an M.F.A. at Alfred University (1984). Returning to Chapel Hill for a decade, her practice in ceramics concentrated on tiles, murals, and public art projects. During this time, she taught at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, along with leading workshops nationwide. In 1996 Esser accepted the position of ceramics chair at KCAI, receiving both the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2013 and the Kathleen Collins Chair of Ceramics in 2016. Esser, along with her students and colleagues, were featured in Season Two of the PBS Craft In America television series. A resident artist at Belger Crane Yard Studios since 2014, Esser has also participated in residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation, the Northern Clay Center, and the International Ceramics Studio in Hungary. She has received grants from the Lighton International Artists Residency Program and the McKnight Foundation. Her work is shown nationally and is represented by Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art of Kansas City.
An ongoing connection between organic and geometric structures in my work has played a role in the creation and evolution of each new series. My early sensibilities as an artist were influenced by our built environments, and in particular by tiles and ornament with motifs of flora and fauna. My ongoing reflection on architectural form and surface has been a touchstone, strongly influencing my thinking on the exterior and the interior as having interlaced significance, of shared meaning. These over-arching ideas are perhaps most fully expressed in my current sculptures, wall-reliefs entitled “Second Skin”. The works are cast with liquid clay in flexible molds, configured to deliberately encourage what at first might be regarded as technical flaws. The random markings and fissures left by the forming process are meant to contrast with the intentionally placed grids and frames. My aim is to render a clear tension between order and entropy. With each piece, the application of monochrome colors, along with various textures, emulate diverse industrial and natural substances, such as metal, salt, coral, oil, confounding the sense of their materiality. The sculptures provoke in me a need to consider the mystery of their interior, that shallow, folded, compressed space held between two planes or skins. I want the sculptures to allude to an internal state that is like a shield—the human need and impulse to protect, both physically and emotionally. Yet, that shield inevitably yields, changes, frays. My deeper thematic interest is in the end of architecture, the end of the body, its inevitable succumbing to gravity, to decomposition, its return to the earth, and with that, the prospect of growth and renewal.
Donna Polseno, Director – Endnote
Donna Polseno received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and her MAT from the Rhode Island School of Design. She moved to the mountains of Virginia after graduation and has been a studio artist since 1974. She started her career making pottery which she continues to do, but diverged to a parallel career of making figurative sculpture in the 80’s. She has received two National Endowment of the Arts Grants and a Virginia Museum Fellowship. Essays about her work have been published in many magazines including Art & Perception and Ceramics Monthly. She is in several books about pottery and sculpture including Sculptural Ceramics (cover photo) by Ian Gregory. She has taught many workshops and summer programs at schools including Penland School of Crafts, Arrowmont School of Crafts, The Bascom, Appalachian Center for Crafts, Long Beach Foundation, and Anderson Ranch Art Center. She has been an invited participant at a symposium in Izmir, Turkey, has taught twice at the WVU exchange program in Jingdezhen, China, and teaches each summer at La Meridiana- International School for Ceramics, in Italy, as well as showing in the second annual “Concreta” exhibiton in Certaldo. She has been teaching ceramics at Hollins University since the inception of the program in 2004 and founded the Women Working with Clay Symposium in 2011.
I strive to make pottery that carries with it a sense of energy and life that can only be enhanced when used for the presentation of food and flowers. Most pieces are slip cast and then often altered, added on to, or reconstructed in some way. I use a mid-range white casting slip.
I have made many different types of pottery over my career, but have always been interested in the way decorative elements can be used to enhance a form, whether one is using an elaborate pattern or the simplest marks. The decorative elements of my work are influenced by the natural world. I was brought up to always notice and take joy in nature.
I have lived my whole life in a rural environment. My images are usually of grasses, leaves, flowers, and nowadays, birds. I grew into the bird imagery years after my father, a well-known landscape and bird painter, passed away.
I have always been attracted to certain qualities of the decorative arts in Asia. I attribute this to living next door to the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City while in art school there. More recently two long working sojourns in China, which gave me abundant access to seeing Yuan and Han Dynasty ritualistic forms, influenced the sculptural aspects of my pieces. My glazing method is the use of multiple layers of compatible glazes, using wax resist and liquid latex to create a kind of visual depth.
My work has been centered for years around the metaphor of women as the spiritual containers of life and my women are often depicted with a vessel of some kind in order to emphasize that allusion to containment. They are intended to be archetypal rather than portraiture and to emote a sense of the universal. My desire is to fill the pieces with life and energy that connects them to the natural world. I vacillate between portraying a sense of calm and meditative acceptance, with a sense of precariousness and fragility, both of which are part of the natural order of things. My interest is in portraying the essence of a woman; her capacity symbolically and in the flesh, to give life, to nurture, and exhibit both vulnerability, beauty, and strength.
Dara Hartman, Assistant Director
Hartman is a full-time studio artist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She received a B.F.A. from Virginia Tech and an M.F.A. from Montana State University. In 2005, she was an artist-in-residence at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana. After graduate school she moved to Washington and was an adjunct professor at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, and at Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland. While in Oregon she was commissioned by Marriott to create 70 figurative sculptures for their Courtyard by Marriott Portland City Center hotel. Most recently, Hartman’s life has taken her to Salt Lake City, where she worked for three years as a product designer and as a design team leader, and traveled to China to work with factories on model design and production.
Growing up in a family of makers, I was raised with paints, pastels, clay, yarn, thread, and fabric in my hands. The women in my life made things for the home. This desire to make utilitarian objects has stayed with me over the years but it wasn’t until a ceramics class in college that I realized that clay was my medium. In one of my first ceramics classes, my professor talked about the subtle nuances of a cup: how the rim of a cup rests on the user’s lip, how the cup is held, the shape of the handle, the volume of the cup, how it sits on the table, and how the intended liquid looks in the cup. Think about that, how complex something as simple as a cup can appear. These ideas on form and function have been a consistent thread in my work over the years. My designs are an exploration of form and surface with careful consideration of details and of how each piece can be used. These pieces are finished with luscious glazes over subtle textures that add a tactile experience to the work. My work connects with the user in a way that allows them to slow down and enjoy the moment whether that’s an afternoon tea or dinner with family.