Alt Clay At Pine Manor

Ellen Schön, Five Hills Font, 2011, smoke-fired clay, 15” x 22” x 22”.

Ellen Schön, Five Hills Font, 2011, smoke-fired clay, 15” x 22” x 22”.


by Greg Morell

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts – Clay has always served as a carrier of culture, from creation myths and cookery to architecture, painting, sculpture and writing. Three sculptors currently exhibiting hand-built clay structures at Pine Manor College have adapted this medium to their contemporary idiom. Each one experiments to fulfill her individual aesthetic, expressive and communicative goals.

Pursuing a woman-centered vision of birth, death and eroticism, Ellen Schön creates objects that exude desirability. Her centered vessels are typically rounded or lobed, with the largest dimension under 24 inches. They call forth in either sex the primal wish to be suckled at the breast and enveloped in the womb. Their profiles allude to many organic forms — pods, fruits, fungi and feminine mysteries. Despite their controlled minimalist feel, these structures contain infinite potential for subtlety and refinement. Their exquisite unity of surface and substance keeps them alive in our minds.

The convoluted surfaces of “Red Well” and “Black Well” pack a sensual charge on the journey from carapace to secret spaces. The impression of symmetry is hard to verify: incomplete views from a single direction can be misleading. Swellings and openings beckon in unexpected places, textures shift between peaks and hollows, and yin-yang tensions pin in place unruly oppositions.

Each new piece delights the eye with delicate textural contrasts and color transitions. Schön burnishes areas of “Red Well” like a bronze urn. Elsewhere, she abrades a surface to display its grittiness or rubs grog away leaving a pockmarked plane. The billowing, milky-white exterior of the tubular “Ammonite” dissolves into blushing interior folds. An undulating ridge surrounds “Quatrefoil” — strangely akin to an upside-down mushroom cap — and separates the silken shadows below from the patches of efflorescence and ashen grooves above. Schön’s works resist the call for inter- pretation or other acts of possession. The instinctual self-knowledge we so desire from them is, paradoxically, something we must seek in ourselves.

Eleonora Lecei combines a broad variety of clay bodies, firing methods, kiln glazing and painting to create haunting forms that hover between two worlds. Although her wall- hung stand of “Birches” is severed into segments, she demands we overlook their splits and fragmentation to imagine them whole. Her applications of multiple clays and glazing techniques superimpose unnatural yet convincing discolorations and textural variation on the glistening white “birch bark.” These maps of scars, scorches and striations bring to mind a traumatized human skin.

A “Wandering Chicken” humbly pecking in the sand is ennobled by the translucence of its glazes and the irides- cence of its raku-blackened tail-feathers. “Dream Rescue” presents another hen, this time cradled in a young woman’s arm. Lecei has daubed her half-figure with a white/gray clay-plaster mix and accented the face and head with reddish encaustic, revealing traces of the underlying terra- cotta. The visual rhyme between the woman’s russet lips and the bird’s bloody comb is enigmatic and disquieting.

Judith Motzkin generates great quanti- ties of small, somewhat amorphous pieces of fired and tumbled clay that can be fingered or held in the palm of one’s hand. They look like worn-down stones and pebbles, shells, fossils, microliths and a variety of archeological shards and remnants, now separated from their source. There is clear evidence of her hand slicing, twisting and rolling these articles, rounding them into little boulders, squashing them into slabs and strips, and curling them into spirals. A few are pierced with round or square holes for stringing and marked, incised, or stained like

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