Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saxonburg Ceramics Invitational Article

Christy Culp at the Wheel

Article in the Sunday Tribune Review.

Saxonburg ceramics show sets the table for art

Sunday, August 29, 2010

 Saxonburg Area Artist Co-Op: "Setting the Table: Contemporary Ceramics Dines In," opening Sept. 4 with a meet-the-artist wine-and-cheese reception, and continuing through Oct. 2.

In an era when we are more attached to electronic devices than people, muses Christy Culp, a timeless art form like ceramics can provide "a human connection."

Having beautiful, useful objects created by another human being can bring happiness, says the North Buffalo artist and Deer Lakes High School art teacher. It certainly provides that connection for her, she says, "because I value what another person has made."

There will be much to value, she believes, in the exhibit she has organized at Saxonburg Area Artist Co-Op: "Setting the Table: Contemporary Ceramics Dines In," opening Sept. 4 with a meet-the-artist wine-and-cheese reception, and continuing through Oct. 2.

The exhibit, which will bring together the work of about 20 potters from the Alle-Kiski Valley and throughout Western Pennsylvania, will feature a fully appointed dinner table, reminiscent of a Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey, on which each artist was asked to design a place setting of dinnerware or accompanying serving piece, such as a pasta bowl, butter dish, serving platter, drinking vessels, candlestick and teapots.
Culp says it showcases the rich and diverse techniques of the potters -- from salt-fired pieces, colorful majolica ware to wood-fired work. She first saw the concept presented at the National Council for the Education of the Ceramics Arts. "I was impacted greatly by its simplicity and diversity," she says.
"Every single artist has a different technique, material, style and approach to clay and their ideas of what a plate, bowl and cup look like." The "incredibly different" interpretations are what can make such a show memorable, she says. 

"I hope the public is awe-struck by what a little bit of clay can be made into," says Culp, who graduated in 1978 from Ford City High School and in 1991 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A Manor Township native, she has taught at Kittanning Middle School, West Hills Elementary and St. Joseph High School.
It is possible to make an argument that ceramics is the most accessible art form in the world, she says. Outside of jewelry, a ceramic piece is interacted with in more ways that any other art form, she adds. "You can mediate on a painting for days, but you can't commune with it," she says. "Feeding yourself from a handmade plate is a ritual; it is part of an interaction that sustains you on a daily basis." 

Another impetus for this show, she says, is the trend in cooking and using organic and local food.
"The potters I know are notorious chefs," she says. A few years ago, she was part of a potters group that met regularly to plan a tour event. "We planned the meals before the agenda, and we ate before we conducted business," she recalls.

Everything was served on dishes the artist created or purchased from another potter. "The meals were worthy of the cover of Gourmet magazine, not only because they were delicious but because they were beautifully presented," Culp says. "It doesn't make sense to me to put what I create from vegetables and meat and bread into something made from a machine. If I am going to show up at your home for dinner, I am going to honor the meal by putting my contribution in a dish that was handcrafted."

Nancy Smeltzer of Smicksburg can relate. In addition to working in clay for 19 years, she has been involved in food and dining for almost 40, since her early years as an apprentice chef in New Orleans. "Making my work has always been with thoughts of its use for the everyday ritual of eating and drinking," says Smeltzer, who is entering a teapot and a tumbler or flower vase. "Making tea in a teapot and serving to friends or family elevates this everyday activity to an almost spiritual one," she adds. "When someone buys my work and says, 'We make tea in your teapot everyday,' or 'I make the best pie using your pie plate,' then I am energized to continue my work with clay."

Like the other exhibitors, Bellefonte resident Jake Johnson has seen customers reluctant to use a functional piece they have purchased because they say "it is too beautiful," and they fear they will break it. "You may not use a teapot every day that you bought from an artist, but maybe you bring it out at certain times, and it helps to mark that occasion as something special," he says.

Johnson, who is exhibiting a salt-and-pepper set on a tray and a vinegar-and-oil ewer set he made, appreciates that this show is an appropriate way to present "functional ceramics." "By having table and place settings, the work is presented in a way it might be in real life, not in galleries or museums," he says.
Ceramics has a lot of traditions, he says, "and I like to try and take those traditions some place new."
Fawn resident Ron Korczynski has a long career forging his traditions of putting his identity into his work -- as an artist and retired Highlands School District art teacher. 

"Ceramics chose me," he says. "In approaching as many different mediums as we did in school, I was drawn to the feel of the clay in my hands and the beauty."

He will have in the show a five-piece stoneware place setting on which he used a brown glaze that he feels enhances the appearance of the food. Korczynski, whose efforts can be found in about a dozen galleries throughout the United States, also will have two serving pieces; one is a goldfish platter modeled after a fish in his aquarium.

"I feel each of my works can be viewed not only as a functional object, but as a painting, as well," he says. He spends time trying to achieve what he refers to as a "painterly" approach to his work.
"Many people view my work as strictly art and do not use it."

Becky Keck of Greensboro, Greene County, has a perspective on that. "The highest compliment you can pay to a functional potter is to use what you have bought," she says. She is entering a hand-built tableware series she calls "Earth and Sky."

"Working in clay is like breathing. I can't imagine doing anything differently. I am inspired by nature and music and the sights and sounds in my world," she says. "I don't know if I could say that I was drawn to ceramics. It was more like I was awakened by the clay."

Amanda Wolf of McCandles, a recipient of the Three Rivers Arts Festival's emerging artist award, who has taught at Carnegie Museum and now at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, says she loves ceramics because it is tactile. "You can make anything out of a lump of nothing. It's magical," she says.

She is represented in the Co-Op show with a variety of items, including a butter dish and a set of candelabra. "Most people who make functional pottery want people to buy a piece and use it," Wolf says. "I find that each piece has a story or memory attached to it, and I enjoy bringing that energy into my home. I also want to bring happy, positive energy to people. I hope my work does that."

So does Plum artist Karen McKee, who is entering several pieces of cookware. "I hope I convey how much I enjoy making each piece, and I hope I can make people smile," she says. "I also hope they feel the connection between each piece I've left my prints on."

It is important to realize that something can be beautiful as well as functional, she adds. "I encourage people to use whatever they buy: Use it until it breaks, and then glue it together and sit it on a shelf," McKee says.
She says she likes this show's concept.

"I like seeing the table set with so many different styles. It's such a great opportunity for artists to come together to showcase their work," she says. "You may think an exhibit like this wouldn't look good, but, wow, when you get all those different pieces on a table it's powerful." 

When:Saturday-Oct. 2; 1-9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays. Extended hours (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) during Saxonburg Arts Festival, Sept. 11-12.
Where: Saxonburg Area Artists Cooperative, 215 Main St., Saxonburg
Admission: Free
Details: 724-422-0851;


  1. I saw some very nice work that has been submitted when I was there on Sunday. Kudos to all those who participated.

  2. Went to the opening last night along with 250 other people! Saw a lot of very nice work. Kudos to Christy, Sam, Pete, ect. for their efforts! The Saxonburg Arts Festival starts Sept. 11 so that will bring many more to the show. Hope to have so pictures to put up soon.

  3. Thanks to everyone who came out Saturday evening. It surpassed our expectations!! We're looking forward to next year's show!
    Please stop out this weekend for the Festival of Fine Arst- September 11&12, 12-5pm
    There are still some great pieces still available.