Just inside the open doorway of GW’s Dimock Gallery hangs the brilliant work Alchemist’s Wall. The vertical slice of an enchanted medieval laboratory entices visitors to enter the exhibit “GW Ceramics: 25 Year Anniversary.”
Detailed with wire globes, mysterious vessels and philosophers’ stones, the slate piece appears to lean up against the wall like a symbolic welcome mat, threading together an underlying theme for the exhibition.
“Although this work contains just a few completely ceramic forms, its overall reference is to the process of ceramics,” artist Linda Thern-Smith said. “(Alchemist Wall) compares the near magical phenomenon by which the ceramist turns plain mud into an object of consequence to the medieval alchemist who is best remembered for trying to turn common substances into gold.”
The exhibit features the works of alumni and current students of GW’s ceramics program. Program Director Turker Ozdogan began the program 25 years ago when he came to GW.
“The show very much captures the whole ceramics program, giving very strong prominence to every piece so it stands out as a collection of individuals around a uniform common goal,” said Pete Van Riper, a ceramics student.
Van Riper’s piece, Punishment of Haman – After Michelangelo, reflects his desire to reinterpret “classical Renaissance ideas into the three dimensional medium of the ceramic family.”
Across from Van Riper’s work sits a bust of a grinning black face staring poignantly up to an invisible authority. The alluring piece demonstrates the African-American themes that run through alumnus Janathel Shaw’s creations. The piece, entitled Salt-N-Pepper Niggah Shaker, is Shaw’s response to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
“(Helms) pretty much shut down the whole building of the African American Museum through the Smithsonian,” Shaw said. “He felt that Americans were just a homogenous group and that various cultures didn’t need to be represented.”
The exhibit at the Dimock Gallery proves Helms wrong – its most distinguishing mark is its diversity. The exhibit showcases the works of 50 participants in the ceramics program over the past three decades. The artists produce vastly different pieces, mirroring the geographical and cultural cross-section of students the ceramics program attracts.
In preparation for the exhibit, Dimock Gallery Director Lenore Miller, faced the challenge of gathering the works. She asked students and alumni to send her slides of their work, and she and Ozdogan chose the pieces to include in the exhibit. One piece even was sent from Korea, the farthest any of the works had to travel.
From the different regions the pieces came from to the inspirations of the artists, the theme of diversity permeates every aspect of the exhibit. However, the pieces are intricately bound together by the ties the artists have to the GW ceramics program.
“GW Ceramics: 25 Year Anniversary” continues in the Dimock Gallery in Lower Lisner Auditorium through Oct. 30. The exhibit is free.