Relishing a Regional Legacy, Part 3 of 3: The Clay Component
By Tom Wachunas
“Clay. It’s rain, dead leaves, dust, all my ancestors. Stones that have been ground into sand. Mud. The whole cycle of life and death.” –Martine Vermeulen-
EXHIBITION: The Cleveland School: Watercolor and Clay, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH MARCH 10, 2013, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio (330) 453 – 7666 www.cantonart.org
Along with the emergence of nationally prominent watercolorists from this region during the early decades of the 20th century, a similar kind of development – a renaissance, really - was unfolding in the realm of ceramic arts. Several important ceramists to come out of this resurgence are well represented here in a diverse array of objects. For sheer depth of styles and techniques presented, this component of the exhibit is every bit as thrilling as the watercolor collection.
The six pieces here by the innovative R. Guy Cowan, including his arresting Adam and Eve, are marvelous examples of Art Deco elegance and grace. Cowan’s pottery studios, established in Lakewood and Rocky River, became a nationally praised magnet that attracted a distinguished group of regional artists who worked there during the 1920s.
Among those artists were Edris Eckhardt and Victor Schreckengost. Eckhardt’s Harlequin Dance is a masterpiece of detailed figuration with glassy, jewel-like glaze work, and another lavishly colorful figure, Fish Story, is delightfully strange and whimsical. There’s a whimsicality, too, about some of the pieces by Shreckengost. While he achieved great notoriety with his Jazz Bowl variations that captured the rhythmic urban energy of their era (two of which are exhibited in this show), he also created works with effectively comic sensibilities, such as his humorous rendering of a moose, Alces Americanus Shirasi, and a giddy baseball caricature of impending drama at home plate in Here It Comes.
The three large stoneware vessels by Claude Conover, displayed side-by-side on a long, low pedestal, provide a kind of primordial dimensionality to the show. Their distressed earth-tone surfaces are gently incised with cryptic patterns, and exude a spirit at once distinctly modern and exquisitely timeless.
And I think it’s that spirit of simultaneity – the ancient fused with the modern – that is at the alluring heart of ceramics as a medium. Clay is malleable detritus that can be reclaimed by eminent masters of the material such as those gathered for this exhibit, and fashioned into forms that transcend utilitarian functions to give a magical new voice to once mute earth.
PHOTOS (from top): Poor Man’s Jazz Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost; Samoa by Viktor Schreckengost; Adam and Eve by R. Guy Cowan; Harlequin Dance by Edris Eckhardt