Vessels of history, present and future: Collaboration demonstrates the importance of pottery at CSU

Pottery featured in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art exhibition, "Shattering Perspectives: A Teaching Collection of African Ceramics"
Pottery featured in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art exhibition, "Shattering Perspectives: A Teaching Collection of African Ceramics"

By Shelby Skumanich

The Gregory Allicar Museum of Art and the Department of Art and Art History have come together to demonstrate the importance of CSU’s place in preserving and advancing the study of pottery.

Two exhibitions opened at the museum in January: Richard DeVore and the Teaching Collection and Shattering Perspectives: A Teaching Collection of African Ceramics. They were brought to life through collaboration among CSU faculty, staff, and students. To support these exhibitions, the Department of Art and Art History is hosting a virtual artist visit with Dame Magdalene Odundo D.B.E., a Kenyan-born British contemporary studio potter.

By bringing together these three events, the Gregory Allicar Museum and the Department of Art and Art History demonstrate the rich history, exciting present, and future possibilities of pottery both at CSU and in the wider field.

Richard DeVore and the Teaching Collection is an exhibition that brings together a collection of objects either made by or were in the orbit of Richard and Jan DeVore. Richard DeVore was a pottery professor in the Department of Art and Art History and a highly regarded educator whose passionate and focused teaching facilitated the transformation of numerous CSU students.

Del Harrow and Sanam Emami, associate professors of Pottery, worked with the museum’s staff to bring together this remarkable exhibition, connecting CSU’s Art and Art History Department with the importance of DeVore’s work in the pottery canon.

“The exhibition also places DeVore’s own work in the context of his sources, showing the ways an artist is both informed by and continually remaking history,” Harrow and Emami say in a press release for the exhibition. “This sensibility shared between DeVore and the current pottery faculty – that contemporary studio practice thrives on the sustenance of history – weaves together the work of the studio with the work of the museum and reminds us that, if we can apprentice ourselves properly to the work of apprehension, objects themselves can become powerful teachers.”

Several of the works in this show were once kept in the CSU Pottery Studio as a part of DeVore’s “Teaching Collection,” a collection of exemplary objects woven into his daily activity of teaching, learning and making. DeVore’s work is held in permanent collections in the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, among many others.

Shattering Perspectives: A Teaching Collection of African Ceramics is a collaborative, student-generated exhibition exploring ceramic arts from across the African continent through vessels and objects from the Gregory Allicar Museum’s permanent collections.

Featuring 141 objects by artists from 57 cultures, representing 19 countries across present-day Africa, Shattering Perspectives takes a unique approach to discussing African ceramics through the lens of a teaching collection. The exhibition is organized around the themes of art vs. artifact, misconceptions about the “unknown” African artist, pot-making techniques across the continent, and visual expressions of identity. The exhibition was conceived by CSU students enrolled in an art history seminar course in Spring 2020.

Shattering Perspectives exhibition
Collection of objects in the Shattering Perspectives exhbition

“The students, who also served as co-curators, authors, and exhibition designers, explored the politics and poetics of museum display, while delving into the methods, functions, and symbolism surrounding pottery, as well as the roles of ceramic artists across the African continent,” says David Riep, associate professor of Art History. “The result is a dynamic exhibition that presents unique viewpoints on approaching and discussing these fascinating objects through hands-on engagement and theoretical dialog.”

Both exhibitions will be on display until June 20 at the Gregory Allicar Museum. Currently, reservations are required to view the exhibitions and can be made online at their website.

“The way the faculty of CSU’s Department of Art and Art History bring their expertise to bear, shedding light on important objects while engaging students in hands-on learning, is truly remarkable and epitomizes excellence at a university museum,” said Lynn Bolland, director and chief curator of the Gregory Allicar Museum.

Magdalene Odundo, a Kenyan-born British studio potter, is best known for her hand-built ceramics

On Feb. 12 and 13, the Scott Artist Series will host Dame Magdalene Odundo, a Kenyan-born British studio potter, best known for her hand-built ceramics. Her pieces are made with a traditional coiling technique, without the use of a potter’s wheel, and are hand-burnished and unglazed. With simple curves and color variations, her sculptures convey the depths of the connection between humans, earth, clay and vessels.

The first day of her visit will be dedicated to a lecture and Q&A sessions with students. The second day, there will be a panel discussion with Douglas Dawson, collector and gallerist; Suellen Melzer, professor of Soil Science; Riep, and Del Harrow, associate professor of Pottery.

“Coming into conversation with an artist of the caliber of Magdalene Odundo opens our students’ eyes to the ways that ceramic vessels can address political, social, and identity issues in contemporary life,” said Eleanor Moseman, Department of Art and Art History chair and associate professor of Art History. “Vessels are parallel to what makes us human; our minds can be seen as vessels for learning and our bodies vessels for life. To see what can be done with traditional methods and materials allows our students to experience the connections in our global world and to understand that they are not limited by history, geography, material, or process. These aspects of art-making coalesce to open up endless possibilities for our students’ own practice and potential.”

The Scott Artist Series, established by alumni Shaesby Scott (’97, Art), and his wife, Catherine Scott (’98, History), aims to support the exchange of ideas among artists from multiple disciplines, various places, and diverse backgrounds. Guests artists in the series are some of the most relevant artists in the contemporary art world who have national and international influence. Their involvement with the CSU community is critical to the long-term impact that art has on society.

“Odundo’s work is held in over 50 major museum collections,” Harrow said. “Her work is sometimes shown in the context of craft, sometimes among traditional or ‘ethnographic’ arts, and sometimes in the context of contemporary ‘fine art.’ One of the significant qualities of her work is that it makes visible the problematic and colonialist nature of these categories themselves. Odundo is a Kenyan born, British national, educated in Africa, India, and England, who has ascended the contemporary art world by making objects in a way widely associated with traditional, indigenous, ‘women’s work.’ To be presented with the power and complexity of Odundo’s work is meaningful for every student in the department of Art and Art History and also every student at CSU.”

These events were made possible in part through a grant from the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, which works to enhance the cultural development and atmosphere for the arts at Colorado State University. Additional support was provided by the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art, the Department of Art and Art History’s Scott Artist Series, and the FUNd Endowment at CSU.