John Girdler hears the language of pottery, and he also creates it.
The Maryville College senior is showcasing his work in the DENSO Art Gallery at the Clayton Center for the Arts during the month of April and will host a reception as part of the Maryville Last Friday Art Walk on April 29.
Girdler likes the connection he feels to functional ware such as pots, vessels, cups and other serving dishes, and it is this relationship between people and pottery that he explores in his exhibit and for his senior thesis. The physical use of the pottery makes it different from paintings or other fine artwork, he said.
“It’s a much more intimate experience,” Girdler said. “It’s very easy for me to relate pots to people.”
Sometimes he pulls a finished piece out of the kiln, and he feels a kinship between the work and someone he knows because some aspect fits that person’s character. When this happens, he gives it as a gift.
Girdler explained how his current show demonstrates the connectivity between pots and people.
“The personification pieces are playing with the idea of how pots relate to people. I do have an interest in both the visual and sort of the audio exploration of negative space and the tension that can exist there,” he said. “In looking at the pots as people and how you read both the pots themselves and the negative space between the pots, it creates a potential for narrative and for exploration of that idea and how they relate to each other in the space.”
Girdler said he spent almost as much time setting the exhibit up and playing with the space between the pots as he did creating the pieces. This process helps him to understand the narrative of the pots.
“The series that’s set up in there is an invitation for people to share their thoughts on that and to respond to that.” The artist has a notebook available so visitors can write down their thoughts.
As part of his senior thesis, Girdler, a native of Somerset, Ky., arranged to have dinners with different families using his pottery for the dinnerware and serving dishes. He was interested in exploring family traditions around meal time and wrote letters of invitation to potential participants.
Once a family agreed to host a meal, they sent a menu to him along with a list of guests. Girdler created serving dishes for each individual meal to complement the food and then left those as a gift. His dinnerware was used for all of the meals.
A photographer friend of his, Doug Berryhill, documented the dinners as Girdler and the guests interacted. A computer slideshow is set up as part of the exhibit at Clayton Center.
The whole experience taught him how to safely pack and store pots as well as allowed him to see how families interact. Members of one large family he feasted with kept sneaking bites of the food before dinner was served, he said with a smile.
To help him prepare for his thesis, he did research by reading different books on traditional dining experiences.
In addition to the vessels, Girdler has put together an elaborate display of cups hung with hemp rope that extends from the ceiling to almost the floor. The artist said he is interested in getting people involved in the display in a subtle way. The cups will be used for the reception so visitors will take one for refreshments. The cups have a knob on the bottom, which serves the dual purpose of providing a way to attach it and of keeping the connection with the person who will have to hold it so that the liquid doesn’t spill.
The hemp rope provides a rough and coarse texture and as the cups are removed, a gentle wind chime effect will be achieved as cups left hanging bump others. This way the display provides both an auditory and tactile experience and also changes throughout the evening, he added. The reception will be held from 6-8:30 p.m.
It is easy to understand how Girdler developed his love of interaction between pottery and people. When he was a boy, he went camping with his parents where he discovered a love of throwing clay.
A potter had an electric throwing wheel set up in the middle of the campground, which fascinated the young Girdler. This budding interest was rekindled while taking a fine arts class at Maryville College that led him to change his major in his junior year.
The Art Walk provides the community with an opportunity to see and purchase the work of area artists at galleries and local businesses. Other exhibits, held in the downtown area, include watercolor artist Maggie Harnois at Vienna Coffee House, oil painter James Owens at Little Nifties, and jewelry designer Dawn Graham, of D. Shell Designs, at The Village Tinker. New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center will offer games, activities and art projects for children and families in the grassy area by Tomato Head restaurant in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. The Art walk runs from 5-9 p.m.
Blount Today will have a full list of Art Walk participants, photos from the March Art Walk in next week’s newspaper.