My MFA experience has been quite the journey. I've been able to work with and learn so much from the many amazing people involved with the UAF Art Department. Jim Brashear has been a wonderful mentor and from him I've learned about firing atmospheric kilns, how to relate my anthropology degree to the history of ceramics, and how to be a mentor to my own students. Working with Teresa Shannon has been a pleasure. She's helped me through many technical debacles and seemed to always be on call for me. Mike Nakoneczny has been my best critic and kept me on task making sure I was aware of many of the imminent deadlines, that otherwise would have made a nice whooshing sound as they passed by. Mareca Guthrie, Art Curator for the UA Museum of the North, has also been a wonderful advocate and supported my ideas in clay. To the many others; Angela Linn (UAMN Collections Manager for the Ethnology and History Collections) Carol Hoeffler, Zoe Jones, David Mollett, Annie Duffy, and the rest of the faculty in the art department, Robin Shoaps (UAF Anthropology faculty and outside committee member), and to my many amazing students, THANK YOU!!
My thesis exhibition occurred in two parts; first an interactive exhibition, “An Artful Experience: Dining Out,” a catered event exhibited at the UA Museum of the North, then a gallery exhibition in the UA Fine Arts Gallery, of the ceramic ware, “Dining Out” An Artful Experience”. I created sixteen place settings; each consisting of a dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, and tumbler, as well as serving ware for the dinner. These, in addition to other utilitarian ceramic ware, were displayed for the exhibition.
AN ARTFUL EXPERIENCE: DINING OUT
Photos of “An Artful Experience: Dining Out” by J.R. Ancheta. 2014
Ceramics play an important role in our daily lives. Our day is marked by situations that revolve around eating and drinking. These moments create opportunies for social interactions, allowing us to share experiences and stories to create and strengthen relationships. For my thesis, I wanted to create an event and environment in which my ceramic ware could foster sociality. The dinner was held at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. This particular museum, renowned for its rich natural history collection pertaining specifically to the North, was the perfect context for the event because it not only displays the objects that inspired me, including story knives and many other artifacts, but also reflected the intention and purpose of the anthropological inspiration for my work.
DINING OUT: AN ARTFUL EXPERIENCE
Image of gallery exhibition at UAF Fine Arts Complex, “Dining Out: An Artful Experience”, 2014.
The gallery exhibition referenced the interactive exhibit as well as set the stage for my ceramic ware. Individual pieces were put in the spotlight and seen for their form, color, and design without distraction of utility. The sixteen place settings were centered on a table in the gallery and arranged as they were for the dinner. Other ceramic pieces, bowls, pouring bowls, coffee pots, coffee drips, teapots, creamers, sugar jars, pitchers, and more, were all displayed on wall units surrounding the table. These objects, while not directly used in the interactive exhibit, still conveyed the theme of use and shared experiences over meals or beverages. Between the shelving units were five photos (taken by J.R. Ancheta) of the interactive exhibit. The photos serve both as a reference to the interactive exhibit as well as a reminder of the utility and purpose of my ceramic ware – to serve, be shared, and create community.
In anthropological history, ceramics has been predominantly used as a vessel. However I see the potential of ceramics to also contain not only liquids or other foods, but also to contain memories of events or histories. During the interactive exhibit attendees had a chance to interact with the work and thus activate it. They were able to feel the feet on the plates and bowls, noticed the color of glaze, felt the form of the tumblers in their hand, and touched the rim to their lips as they drank. The dinner allowed the work to come alive and created an opportunity for interaction and sharing, something not offered by an exhibit that solely displayed the vessels in a gallery setting.
The beauty of utilitarian ceramics lies in its ability to create community through social interactions while nourishing the body. The forms and line work of my ceramics reference the ethnographic material that has inspired me. Handmade pottery serves as a reminder of the time-honored rituals, processes, and objects that embellish and enrich our daily lives. Those who use the vessels will create and contain their own memories through their continued use.