The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Scratching the surface

    John Koenig

    Looking through the set of open doors leading into Foster Gallery from the Haas Fine Arts Center lobby, one large ceramic pill-like capsule hangs on an otherwise empty wall.

    This piece, along with many others, will be part of “Surface Tension,” an exhibit of ceramic works, which will kick off with a public opening 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Foster Gallery.

    Susan O’Brien, assistant professor of art and design, is the curator for the exhibit and said it is something she feels will bring a more diverse medium to the area.

    “With surfaces, there is a lot of variety,” she said. “The beauty of ceramics is that it’s so versatile in what you can do with it. Seeing the diversity a clay medium can offer – that is the epitus, that clay is more than just a craft medium.”

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    In her second year of teaching at UW-Eau Claire, O’Brien said Foster Gallery Director Tom Wagener approached her during her first semester to ask her about doing an exhibit.

    She has been planning “Surface Tension” ever since.

    “I felt that the students could benefit a lot from the exposure to lots of different surfacing techniques,” she said.

    The exhibit will display about 35 to 40 pieces from a total of 10 artists from around the nation. Many of the pieces are from the artists’ own personal collections, O’Brien said.

    She said she got into ceramics because she was drawn to the ceramics community, something she said that allowed her to be able to plan the exhibit.

    “That’s what drew me from a metal-smithing studio to a clay studio,” she said. “There is a more open communicative environment for sharing ideas.”

    As the exhibit’s curator, O’Brien made phone calls and sent e-mails inviting the artists to have their works be displayed.

    “A lot of these people are (participating) as a favor to me,” she said, explaining that many of the artists whose works will be featured are people she has worked with in the past.

    “Some of them I know, and some I don’t know from Adam. It’s been fun (contacting them).”

    Wagener said when it comes to an exhibit such as “Surface Tensions,” in which most of the artists have some sort of relationship to the organizers, it can be somewhat difficult to view the pieces without any bias.

    “It’s hard for me to see it objectively,” he said.

    After spending several months contacting the artists, O’Brien and other department faculty and staff only had a few days to set up the exhibit, which is something, O’Brien said, that is an important part of the exhibit itself.

    “These people have been very great to work with,” she said of Wagener and others who helped set up the exhibit Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Having had not much experience with organizing or even setting up an exhibit, O’Brien said she is glad for the experience and expertise that Wagener and others have had to offer.

    “I haven’t hung that many shows, so there is a learning curve with that,” she said.

    Tom Burgraff, a graduate student and kindergarten art teacher in Altoona, volunteered his time Tuesday afternoon to help O’Brien and Wagener set up the exhibit and said he has been able to glean a few things from viewing other artists’ works.

    “It’s an inspiration to be able to come in here,” he said. “What they have here have taken years to refine.”

    With professional experience as a collage artist, Burgraff said that though the pieces are somewhat different from the work he has done, he finds himself wanting to branch out.

    “Being an educator, I have to run the full gamut,” he said. “I’m just excited because after seeing this, (it’s) definitely making me want to experiment and to try a few new avenues.”

    Although none of the artists will be able to make it to the exhibit because of a ceramics conference, O’Brien said at least one will be coming to Eau Claire in the fall.

    One of the artists, whose work will be featured in “Surface Tensions,” will also visit the Eau Claire campus next semester, O’Brien said.

    Kathryn Finnerty, a studio artist from Pleasant Hill, Ore., will hold lectures and workshops for art students during October, she said.

    O’Brien said she is also hoping to get Vince Burke, an associate professor of art at the University of Texas-El Paso, to come to Eau Claire as a featured artist.

    Other artists whose work will be displayed include Adrian Arleo, Kate Blacklock, Julia Galloway, Phyllis Kloda, Matt Metz, Jenn Reed, Virginia Scotchie and Linda Sikora.

    In addition to Finnerty and Burke, O’Brien said she also hopes to invite Deb LeAir, a ceramicist based out of St. Paul, Minn., who currently has works on display at the L.E. Phillips Public Library in Eau Claire and will not be part of the exhibit.

    As far as the opening Thursday evening, O’Brien said she has somewhat mixed emotions, explaining that though she is excited about her first exhibit, she is also a bit nervous.

    However, she said, she hopes the exhibit will help to bring a better understanding of clay and ceramics to her students and the Eau Claire community.

    “I think the important thing is to expose people to what clay can do,” she said. “So much about the process is exposing students, which is very important as an educator.”

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