University of Iowa School of Art and Art History hosts first Ceramics Invitational Show

A first of nine program invitationals, the Ceramics Invitational Show exhibits work from over 50 graduate students and faculty members from six universities, including the University of Iowa. Along with the exhibition, there will be a related symposium on Sept. 22-23, featuring guest lectures, demonstrations, and tours.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The University of Iowa Invitational Ceramics Exhibition is seen in Art Building West in Iowa City on Sept. 21, 2022.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

Take one step inside the echoing four stories of the University of Iowa Visual Arts Building, and visitors are met with a choice: go straight into the open Lasansky Atrium or turn left into the sunlit Drewelowe Gallery. There is a third option, however — is the tucked away Ana Mendieta Gallery on the second floor.

Hosted inside three different spaces, the UI’s inaugural Ceramics Invitational Show features the creative work of over 50 faculty and graduate students from six different universities, all carefully chosen by Andrew Casto, School of Art and Art History ceramics program head and associate professor.

Last year, Casto said School of Art and Art History Director Steve McGuire proposed the idea to hold a national exhibition in each of the school’s departments. Once accepted, ceramics was chosen to go first, and Casto started to decide which outside schools’ programs the UI would invite.

After ceramics, the nine other programs in the school will cycle through their own invitationals over the next three years. Casto’s said he hopes to hold the Ceramics Invitational Show again in 2025.

“When we do a show like this, we’re providing space for dialogue amongst people making ceramics at institutions of higher learning that our research institutions,” Casto said.

Pulling from schools that many UI graduate students originate from, as well as other unrelated universities, Casto said the peers he landed on were the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; The University of Colorado, Boulder; The University of Florida, Gainesville; Penn State University; and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, as well as students in the UI’s own program.

Work from artists at each of these schools were carefully curated in the Visual Arts Building’s three spaces. The pieces went on display on Aug. 29 and will be showcased until Sept. 30.

Turning into the usually quiet Drewelowe Gallery, guests are hit with the sound of soft chirping bugs coming from a piece titled Night Song by University of Florida faculty member Jesse Ring, placed in the center of the room.

Ceramics of all materials fill the area, flooding in from the floors up the walls. On the back wall hangs a circular ceramic piece with a wheel of colors: blue, purple, green, orange, yellow. Standing closer, the viewer will see wooden matches, and a corresponding striker on the side.

Shannon Goff’s piece Balsamic Circle was inspired during the height of the pandemic. Goff is the Penn State School of Visual Arts ceramic area head and an associate professor of art. When Goff thought about what was getting her through that difficult time, she noted burning incense — which, like ceramics, involves mixing a wet mass and a dry mass.

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“I thought if I’m going to make work like this, I certainly should figure out how to make incense and go all the way, not do this in a half-assed way,” Goff said. “I eventually learned that making incense is not unlike making small fragrant batches of clay.”

Her goal with the piece is to allow the viewer to explore and discover an imaginary landscape, to find all the separate pieces — the incense, matches, and striker — and ultimately participate with the work.

Goff will join the UI and the other involved schools to take a look at the Invitational’s work along with engaging in the associated symposium on Sept. 22 and 23. The symposium will feature a lecture by notable contemporary ceramic artist Amy Santoferraro, as well as demonstrations by various faculty members, and a tour of the recently opened Stanley Museum of Art.

Casto said he is looking forward to the community aspect of the symposium the most. When putting together the event, he did it while thinking of how he could help his students.

“My hope is that our students connect with faculty at other schools that they might populate down the road, that they make friendships with other artists at other institutions, and then have exhibitions or opportunities occur because of that,” Casto said.

Casto’s own duo of pieces in the show, Untitled Accumulation Vessels, are in the art building’s expansive, hollow atrium. The pieces consist of large porcelain jugs that investigate form, color, and shape, keeping in tradition with his years of working with the material.

The surface treatment of precious metals, including real gold, glint in the light pulling the eye from the other intricate pieces in the atrium.

Going up to the second floor, in the Ana Mendieta Gallery, visitors can find yet another room filled with diverse ceramic art.

UI Iowa Idea Visiting professor of ceramics Sydney Erwerth’s vibrant red, orange ombre table is located in the center of the room. She said she pulls from her interest in architecture during her creative process, often using materials like clay, plaster, resin, and grout.

The piece has two titles — a common theme amongst her ceramic pieces. In this case, the table is titled Building Something Out Of Nothing/What Happens At The Dinner Table, Stays At The Dinner Table.

 The inspiration behind the jumbled looking structure on top of the table, Erwerth said, stems from the energy in a moment between people at a table.

“A table can mean a first date, a table could mean a serious conversation between a parent and a child, it could mean a family dinner, it’s like a gathering place,” Erwerth said.

No matter which space a ceramic enthused guest visits first, there will be a variety of radiant contemporary pieces to look at, made from students and faculty across the country.

“I’m excited for this community to come together,” Erwerth said. “I have seen that within different ceramic communities at different universities, the ceramic studio can’t just take one person to thrive, you need a team.”