Gallery showcases Native American heritage through pottery

The Foster Gallery opens new “Special Meanings” art exhibit


Photo by Taylor Wilkinson

Jake Taylor, a fifth-year ceramics students, discusses pottery with Ned Gannon, an illustration professor at UW-Eau Claire.

With the approach of Native American Heritage Month in November, the Foster Gallery continues to reflect on this culture in the upcoming “Special Meanings” exhibit.

According to the Foster Gallery website, the exhibit was opened at the Haas Fine Arts Building on Friday, Oct. 18 and will run through Wednesday, Nov. 13.

The “Special Meanings” Southwestern pottery collection was donated by Richard LaBelle, a 1968 UW-Eau Claire alumnus and Al Miller, a 1972 UW-River Falls alumnus.

Greg Kocken, the McIntyre Library Head of Special Collections and a co-curator of the exhibit, said many do not know the interesting backstory on how the campus attained the extensive pottery collection. 

“This was a collection that was donated to the university foundation in 2017,” Kocken said. “Through parts of the 21st century (LaBelle and Miller) started taking trips to the American Southwest and acquiring these pieces of pottery, and over time, built an impressive collection.”

Emmett Foner, an undecided first-year student, said he first noticed the gallery after being in the Haas Fine Arts Building several times a week for music rehearsals.

“I am a musician there and have rehearsals almost every day,” Foner said. “(The Foster Gallery) is a good use of Eau Claire’s networking and to get those pieces of art in a gallery for students in the building.”

The gallery showcases a wide range of pieces that differ in style based on their origin and date created. This collection highlights Native American nations including the Hopi, Acoma and Cochiti.

Kocken said as a co-curator he aimed to showcase the broad representation this gallery has for the community around campus.

“This is an opportunity to not just showcase one style or one tradition from these American Indian Nations,” Kocken said. “Something that shows the similarities (or) in some cases, the stark differences between pottery traditions.”

Foner said the campus has a great way of bringing together ways for students to learn about the  nation’s history and also appreciate an art form they might not otherwise see.

“I think having a space to share this art is really awesome,” Foner said. “It is a fantastic space for people to take some quiet time away from their studies. It can give us a chance to take a look at some of the history of our land here in the United States.”

The “Special Meanings” exhibit will also hold a live pottery-making demonstration within the art installation on Nov. 7.

Kocken said he values the 21st century representation the collection showcases and encourages viewers to reflect on the contributions each nation gives to society.

“Far too often when we learn about American Indian culture it uses a mechanism that often places American Indians in the past,” Kocken said. “This exhibit is an opportunity to demonstrate that this is very much a part of our present.”

Foner said students and faculty alike should take advantage of the art-related resources the Eau Claire campus continues to acquire throughout the year.

“We should appreciate the artistic history that not everyone has access to. Here at Eau Claire, we do have the opportunity to see it,” Foner said.

For more information on Foster Gallery events, visit the Ruth Foster Art Gallery website.

Nelson can be reached at [email protected].