Instinctive Formations at Shattuck
by Don Wilkinson
Westport, MA – Midway through April and in anticipation of an exhibition at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery in Westport, Mass. that would not open until June, I visited the studio of Rebecca Hutchinson in bucolic Rochester, Mass., just north of New Bedford. Hutchinson, who has been a professor of ceramics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth since 2001, has a multifaceted workspace including a small and simple woodshop, printmaking studio and papermaking gear, as well as kilns and ceramics production equipment. And clearly she uses it all, sometimes as the tools of a solitary craft, but more often combining the elements of the various disciplines to create complex and ornate three-dimensional works deployed as singular sculptures or as structures formulated as components of large, site-specific installations.
Her work is largely botanical in appearance, and Hutchinson noted that “there are diverse states of existence” that she continues to observe and study, including the structure of nature, the interaction of various and competing forces of nature, biological diversity, and the resilience of life itself manifested as the struggle to grow, expand, reproduce and nurture.
In works collectively called the “Determinate Growth” series, she takes inspiration from root systems, rock outcroppings, moss, the forest floor, invasive species and the species that fight against them, the strength and fragility of small- and large-scale ecosystems, floral beauty and ferocity, and plant formations of all kinds. The work is highly detailed with great respect for the traditions of the crafts that make up the sum of her whole, but it is a respect that is not overly pious. She noted the influence of Persian rugs and Islamic pattern-making for example, but she is not burdened by a tendency toward decoration and unnecessary flourishes.
The sculptures, some of which sit on the floor and some that are suspended from the wall, are made primarily from a few elements. There is, of course, clay, some “site dug,” some purchased. There are fibrous florets of handmade paper, made pink or powder blue or delicate green by the addition of repurposed old clothing, rags or table linens added to the pulp in the papermaking process. They are tatterdemalions transformed into something that manages to be both…