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Ceramics the focus of new ETSU exhibits

January 21st, 2014 10:34 am by Entertainment Staff

Ceramics the focus of new ETSU exhibits

Ceramics are the focus of two new exhibits presented by East Tennessee State University’s Department of Art & Design and Slocumb Galleries, and curated by husband and wife Dr. Scott Contreras-Koterbay and Karlota Contreras-Koterbay.

The work of artists from 10 of the most prominent ceramic studios in the Seagrove, N.C., area is on display in a new exhibit at ETSU’s Slocumb Galleries.

Curated by contemporary art historian Dr. Scott Contreras-Koterbay, the exhibit celebrates the vessel and the mastery of pottery in one of the most vibrant ceramic artists’ communities in the country whose respect for tradition is equally significant with its exploration of contemporary forms in clay.

A reception and gallery talk will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., Jan. 30 at Slocumb Galleries, where the exhibit will remain on display through Feb. 7.

The history of art production in the Seagrove, N.C., area can be traced to the late 1700s, when craftsmen migrated to and began making pottery in Seagrove.

“Around 1920, however, what had been a local industry started to become a tourist attraction,” Contreras-Koterbay said. “Seagrove has continued to flourish not only as the ‘Pottery Capital of North Carolina’ but also as one of the longest established ceramic communities in the country.

“Centered around the Original Owens Pottery, which was founded in 1895, and Jugtown Pottery, since 1921, it has become one of the most productive and famous ceramic arts centers in the world.”

The exhibit’s curatorial intent touches on the traditions of the past but also highlights “younger artists who have moved to the area, some from as far as Japan, and offers a survey of breadth and depth of the quality work produced in the Seagrove area,” Contreras-Koterbay said.

Participating artists and studios are: Ben Owen, Bruce Gholson and Samantha Henneke from Bulldog Pottery; Daniel Johnston, Jeff Dean and Stephanie Martin of Dean and Martin Pottery; Carol Gentithes and Fred Johnston of Johnston and Gentithes Studios; Bayle, Travis, Pamela and Vernon Owens of Owens Pottery; Hitomi Akebi Shibata and Takuro Shibata of Studio Touya; Tom Gray, and Mark and Meredith Heywood of Whynot Pottery; and Sid Luck.

Slocumb Galleries, located in Ernest C. Ball Hall along Sherrod Drive on the main campus, is open to the public free of charge from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, with extended hours until 6 p.m., Thursdays.

Opening Jan. 21 at ETSU’s Tipton Gallery is “Earthen Bodies: Ceramics as Sculptural Form,” which celebrates the figurative and non-utilitarian form of ceramic as an art form.

On display through Feb. 14, the exhibit is presented by the ETSU Department of Art & Design and Slocumb Galleries in partnership with the Urban Redevelopment Alliance and is curated by Karlota Contreras-Koterbay.

Some of the participating artists will discuss their work during a First Friday reception from 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 7. They will discuss the exhibit as it explores the diverse sculptural forms created by artists working on figurative clay in the region during an ArtIfact gallery talk at 6 p.m., Feb. 13.

Ceramics is one of the more popular and established craft media in the Southern Appalachian region, and this malleable medium has evolved to various permutations and tactile experimentations. “Earthen Bodies” features works that provide diverse perspectives and a range of styles and utilization of ceramics as medium for sculpture.

The invited artists from the tri-states of Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia are Sally Brogden, Melisa Cadell, Carol Gentithes, Mindy Herrin, Kevin Kao, Richard Kortum, Val Lyle, AJ Masterson and Ed Miller. 

ETSU faculty Mindy Herrin and alumni Melisa Caddell both create meticulous and complex figurative sculptures, mostly investigating the female body fabricated with other media such as encaustics and metal works. Herrin describes her work as depicting dialogue as surfacing in the “guise of affliction or struggle.”  Her anatomical heroines illustrate women’s physical struggles and mental perspectives in their aspiration to overcome the body’s limitations. In parallel, Cadell’s elongated, and at times emaciated or mutated, figures are visualizations of her thoughts on “confinement and transcendence of the human body,” often as efforts to provoke dialogue on issues such as mortality and the unexpected consequences of genetics and technology.

This common thread of employing the female body is also prevalent in the works of Val Lyle, whose ceramic torsos made from clay are gestural forms characterized as sensual, organic and emotive as the artist strives to relate to the viewers on a “primitive level.”

Last year’s “Positive Negative” national juried exhibit’s Best of Show awardee Kevin Kao’s work also explores the human form, yet his figures portray a very different crowd from the female sculptors in the exhibition. Most obvious are the androgynous or male subjects and their uncanny statement on race and identity. Kao’s “character-objects are surreal images that portray whimsy, pain and satisfaction,” at times reminiscent of “super flat” aesthetics and anime generation. This younger generation of Kao, Ed Miller and AJ Masterson employ humor in their work, at times anthropomorphing animal figures. In this era of social networking, artists like Miller — who considers his work a form of journalism as he observes the world and reports his findings through sculpture — it isn’t surprising to find quirky LOL animals and complex “selfies” in 3D.

Equally whimsical are the animal figures of Carol Gentithes, the product of her readings and visual interpretations of art history, literature and mythology. Gentithes describes her art as visual language that focuses on the “absurdity, unpredictability and unruliness of life.”

Different from the other artists’ work are the “closed vessels” of ETSU philosopher Richard Kortum, who creates large-scale, vessel-like ceramic forms that are non utilitarian, showing prowess in the technique and experimentation of various firing processes. His work has a similar vein as University of Tennessee Knoxville’s ceramic faculty member Sally Brogden’s work, which is more formal, abstracted and often with ambiguous references. Brogden’s recent objects benefit from the “memory of touch as they embrace the vagaries of process, glaze variation and corporal imperfection.”

The Tipton Gallery is located at 126 Spring St. in downtown Johnson City. Gallery hours are 4-6 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays and by appointment.

All the ceramics on display are available for purchase.

For more information on either exhibit, call Slocumb Galleries Director Karlota Contreras-Koterbay at (423) 483-3179 or email

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