Western Michigan University

06/11/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/11/2024 10:19

Molding next generation of artists, Morean Ceramics Research Center draws national talent to lead workshops

Contact: Erin Flynn
June 11, 2024
  • George Rodriguez's life-size luchador sculpture stands in a kiln inside Kohrman Hall.

  • Rodriguez works on his luchadore sculpture.

  • Summer workshops give students the opportunity to interact with and learn from nationally recognized artists.

  • Students each printed a clay head from the same mold and were challenged to alter it to fit their own personality and artistic vision.

  • "It's been so incredibly impactful to work alongside artists who are nationally recognized and renowned in our field," says Caitlin Zachow, a graduate student from suburban Detroit.

  • Once students were finished sculpting, Rodriguez added their heads to a larger art piece.

  • Kyle Triplett, director of the Morean Ceramics Research Center, aims to encourage creativity and exploration during summer workshops by bringing in artists with diverse points of view.

  • The summer workshop is open to artists of varying skill levels, from hobbyists to undergraduate and graduate art students and even professional artists from across the country.

  • Visiting instructor Alex Zablocki encouraged students to experiment with glaze.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.-A life-sized luchador sculpture looms in a massive kiln inside Western Michigan University's Kohrman Hall, awaiting a dayslong firing. A whimsical creation whipped up by visiting internationally renowned sculptor George Rodriguez, the wrestling figure could also represent the truths students in the Morean Ceramics Research Center's summer intensive workshop are challenged to wrestle with.

"Our big goal for the workshop is collaboration and experimentation. So, not only are students collaborating with visiting artists … but we also try to find two visiting artists who are very different. And then our students spend the next two weeks unpacking how they are similar, and I think that helps students to understand not to create binaries within people's works," says Kyle Triplett, center director.

George Rodriguez incorporated all of the students' heads into his own larger art piece.

Rodriguez creates highly ornamented, figurative ceramic sculptures that are often underlined by a connection to sociopolitical issues. His work is included in collections from the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago to the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

In contrast, fellow visiting instructor Alex Zablocki shatters norms by deconstructing ceramic vessels and reanimating their constituent parts with an emphasis on glaze. His work has been shown nationally and internationally in a number of galleries and is currently being hosted at Culture Object in New York City and the Galleria Luisa Delle Piane in Milan, Italy.

"It's been really great. I think we've been quite complementary in terms of how George is working and how I'm working," Zablocki says.

Students have the opportunity to draw inspiration from the diverse perspectives of both artists, creating their own individual pieces while also sculpting a piece that Rodriguez incorporated into his own artwork. Each student started by pressing the same nondescript head out of clay and then altering it to fit their own vision. The end result was a ceramic totem filled with faces ranging from mythical creatures to cartoon figures that will be displayed at a gallery show later this year.

"It's been so incredibly impactful to work alongside artists who are nationally recognized and renowned in our field," says Caitlin Zachow, a graduate student from suburban Detroit. "They are both such amazingly friendly and genuine people, but there is also so much knowledge, skills and experience here-not just in making but also in how to develop a career in ceramics."

"It's a rarity getting this kind of exposure in a field so many of us are so dedicated to and in love with," adds Tory Taylor, an undergraduate art education student from Novi, Michigan. "We get to be surrounded by nationally known artists and get to interact with them so personally. It gives us exposure and knowledge of what professionals are doing in the field. It's really fun and really hands-on."

The class draws a wide range of expertise, from undergraduate students looking for credit outside their major to graduate ceramics students and both professional and hobby artists from as far away as New York and California.

"The ceramics department (at Western) is fantastic," says Jim Protos, an artist and nonprofit professional from Brooklyn, New York. "My studio is a professional, members-only studio, and this has actually got some better kilns than my own studio. It's a great setting, great artists, highly skilled people. It's fun!"

"It really is just such a great experience to have the time with the visiting artists but also to connect with all the artists attending the workshop," Zachow adds. "We had folks from across the country there and people with all different skill sets, and it was great to see everyone come together, make great work and learn new skills."

Regardless of the physical work students will take away from the class, Zablocki hopes they'll leave with a fresh set of skills and some new ideas about their own creative processes that they can take into their careers.

"It's okay to challenge stuff. It's okay to innovate within your own practice, be it ceramics, painting, drawing, any other thing. It's okay to experiment and try new stuff and be excited," he says.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.