WCU Fine Art Museum Exhibition: August 18 - December 4, 2020
Cultivating Collections: Ceramics
Over 80 works make up the Museum’s ceramics collection and range from functional wood-fired porcelain and sculptural stoneware to a multi-piece earthenware installation. While the first clay works entered the University’s art collection in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the Art Department’s artists-in-residence program, the ceramics collection got a kickstart in 2005 when Founding Director of the WCU Fine Art Museum, Martin DeWitt, began making strategic purchases from regional artists and WCU students.
The collection grew in 2008 with a donation of works from Perry Kelly, a former director of WCU’s Art Department (now the School of Art and Design), that included 32 ceramic objects. Among this donation were two works by ceramic luminary Marguerite Wildenhain, a Bauhaus-trained artist, as well as a raku-fired stoneware piece by WCU’s own Professor Emerita Joan Falconer Byrd, who taught ceramics at WCU for 46 years.
As the collection grew over the next decade, the Museum acquired works by other artists of national impact, such as Don Reitz and Norm Schulman, and welcomed a new focus on contemporary Native American art, which includes ceramics among other mediums.
Works by Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian artists and other Native American artists comprise nearly twenty percent of the ceramics collection, a number that the Museum expects to grow steadily over the next few years. This growth continues to accelerate due to the generosity of Lambert Wilson, a passionate collector of contemporary Native art and a WCU alumni, who has donated works from his personal collection. The Museum’s most recent ceramic acquisition is We only want to be seen as human, a large-scale work donated and created by WCU’s Digali’i Native American Student Organization in collaboration with Eastern Band Cherokee artist Joel Queen. This work carries a powerful message about treating all individuals as human beings and recognizing that each person, each community, and each culture has an important contribution to make to society.
In 2016, the Museum expanded its interest in ceramics in partnership with Associate Professor Heather Mae Erickson, who curated the exhibition Contemporary Clay for the Museum’s galleries.
The exhibition brought together a cross section of contemporary ceramic artists and ignited a conversation about the exciting developments and innovations taking place in the ceramic arts.
Professor Erickson is planning a second Contemporary Clay exhibition for 2021, which has highlighted the need for the Museum to collect more socially engaged and conceptual work in ceramics, as well as more work by artists more broadly across the Americas.
Cultivating Collections is a multi-year series of exhibitions that highlights specific areas of the WCU Fine Art Museum’s Collection, which includes over 1,800 works of art in a wide range of media by artists of the Americas.
As the Museum’s holdings increase, either through donations or purchases, it is essential for the Museum to evaluate strengths, identify key acquisition areas, and also pinpoint where significant change is needed.