A Seat at The Table in Port Chester

Art is often seen as a creative expression that is appreciated primarily, or so the Oxford Dictionary says, for [its] beauty and emotional power. However, the main criteria for Clay Art Center’s current ceramics exhibition is function – or, as the organization’s exhibitions and marketing director Regina Farrell-Fagan puts it – “ceramics that serve.”

Functional Fall: A Seat at The Table, on view through October 16, presents artworks by more than 40 artists in a variety of ceramic styles, shapes, creative processes, finishes, surface treatments and themes. There are artworks representing both the traditional use of the pottery wheel, manual sculpting, and a combination of the two.

Figurative and narrative works sit alongside conceptual works. All were juried into the show based on a national open call by renowned ceramic artist Jessica Putnam-Phillips.

However, regardless of subject matter and presentation, the artists went beyond only creating practical tableware. Putnam-Phillips explains that the works in the show “explore the ideas of serving beyond their traditional role as a vessel for a meal.” Instead, she says, they “set the table for a dialog between maker and viewer.”

The exhibition’s first prize was awarded to Robin Hanschel’s Service Animal, a whimsical stoneware serving dish that resembles a mythical creature with a variety of intricate details, including a removable spoon and painted ceramic wheels attached by metal hardware.

Hanschel, who is an artist resident at the Center, mentioned that she is “continually inspired by ancient myths and medieval manuscript marginalia with their expansive ideas of reality, and by a reciprocal idea of anthropomorphism.” As she put it: “We are animals and they are us.”

Second prize went to Amy Henson’s Liquor Set, a hand-built ceramic “glass” and a pitcher/decanter that resemble flowers. In her bio, Henson states that her current concepts focus on maternal feminism. The viewer can observe the work of pink and brown flowers that are traditionally associated with earth and women, as well as the delicate curvy shapes of the vessels. In addition, the artist specifies her interest in other media, including jewelry, an influence we can see in the object’s detailed decorations.

Asta Bubliene’s porcelain Pitcher with Anemones achieved the show’s honorable mention. Influenced by turn-of-the-20th-century design, Bubliene adds a modern twist to the shape of the pitcher. She also uses mixed decorative techniques, including the process of inlaying colors, to create intricate flowers that cover her work.

Many other artists selected for this exhibition demonstrate their mastery in various techniques, such as Diane DiMauro’s Deco Vessel, which is decorated by ceramic decals; Madeleine Althoff’s Fleur and Krans, which utilizes jet black underglaze in her sgraffito; Karina Larsen Sigo, who adds small ceramic pieces on plastic strings that resemble children’s jewelry; Kay Petronio’s Serving Dish with Buttons, which looks like a corset and creates an illusion of being made from thin metal; Marion Angelica’s technically complex Torreador Sugar and Creamer Set, and many more.

On the other hand, some of the artists are more interested in the subject, such as the erotic Touch Me by Laura Montoya Tocame or conceptual works by Amie Sell (Navy Gravy Boat), Sheetal Mehta (The Joy of Eating Together) and Richa Gupta (Serving Platter).

There are many other works in the exhibition, all united by the topic of “service” and, of course, the material itself – clay.

Public tours are given at the Center every Wednesday at 11am.

Photo credit: Michael Blair: Redbird Pitcher and Angel Brame: Whiskey For One


Yana Rolnik is a freelance art historian and full-time Director of Software Engineering at Confluence Technologies. She has a Bachelors in Computer Science, Masters in Art History, and is pursuing Masters in Entrepreneurship in the Arts.

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