Scripps Ceramics Annual offers a place to ponder

Seventy-three years on, the Scripps College Ceramics Annual is still reminding visitors that ceramics is an exciting and multi-faceted medium that extends far beyond a simple pot.

This year’s exhibit highlights nine American artists whose clay creations evoke “A Sense of Place.” Dozens of works, combining technical mastery and imagination, have been sparingly arranged in the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. The placement, which comes courtesy of curator Joan Takayama-Ogawa, gives each piece proper weight rather than letting it get lost in the creative shuffle.

In “Heavy with Love,” one of the botanical-themed works by Michael Sherrill, a pair of green-flecked red apples dangle from a silica-bronze bough, ready for the picking. Light shines against the branch, leaves and fruit in such a way that the bough’s shadow becomes a second artwork.

“As an artist but also as an educator, I think they’re just beautiful,” Collections Manager and Registrar Kirk Delman said. “It’s so amazing for people studying ceramics to see this quality of work.”

Chris Antemann’s pieces, scenes of what looks like a pre-Revolution French court taking their leisure, are also shown to stunning effect. In “An Occasional Craving,” a half-dozen white porcelain couples, with painted details like red lips and gold-highlighted coiffures, gather around a banquet table. 

A warning should be tendered for those who like their artwork prim. The men are nude and in a particular state of…ahem…alertness, while the women wear only lingerie enlivened by floral decals. The party’s more clearly more interested in one another than the sumptuous feast.

It’s hard to top this kind of Rococo ribaldry, but Red Weldon Sandlin’s teapot-themed collection arguably wins the prize for the most whimsical works in “A Sense of Place.” In “The Chinese QuinTeapots,” five intricately painted teapots are stacked between the legs and Hanfu cap-topped head of a Chinese boy. One could imagine this wondrous youth taking the stage, like conjoined twins and P.T. Barnum protégées Chang and Eng, for astonished Victorian crowds.

In another of Mr. Sandlin’s offerings, “My, What a Big Spout You Have,” a painted earthenware Little Red Riding Hood, who has been imbued with girl-power confidence, stares down a teapot with the legs and tail of a wolf.

And for W.A. Ahren Tool, his cup truly runneth over. He has presented a display of hundreds of hand-built stoneware cups called “400, of Thousands.” Arranged by color to recreate—just step back, you’ll see it—the American flag, many cups feature sculpted reliefs of gas masks, machine guns, skulls and war victims. Others are embellished with ink transfers of soldiers, the Anonymous-associated Guy Fawkes mask and author George Orwell, who famously criticized the propagandistic language governments use to promote their conflicts.

Mr. Tool, a Gulf War veteran, has made thousands of such cups and always gives them away. Guests at the show have been invited to write their name on a piece of paper and put it in a cup of their choosing. When the annual is dissembled, they will go to their new owners.

“The images on the cups are often graphic and hard to look at,” he notes in his artist statement on the Dirty Canteen website. “You may be for or against a particular war, but I think it is too easy for us to look away. I hope that some of the cups can be starting points for conversations about unspeakable things. I hope conversations flourish between veterans and the people who are close to them. I also hope that some honest conversation can happen about war and its causes.”

The show’s January 21 opening reception drew some 700 people, a testament to how much interest there is in the Scripps Ceramics Annual. While each exhibition takes on the aesthetics of that year’s guest curator and carries its own theme, all are marked by quality and innovation.

The 73rd Ceramics Annual, however, has a certain luster to it. Each featured artist is working at the height of their power and creating work that is polished to a high-sheen of perfection. That may be because it’s been helmed by Ms. Takayama-Ogawa, who not only teaches ceramics but also product design at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

“I looked for artists who showed an absolute fearlessness of the technical challenges associated with pushing the limits, and rejected anything less than the highest of standards for their work,” Ms. Takayama-Ogawa explained in her curatorial statement. “These artists are not typical in today’s restless world of instant gratification; instead, they are willing to labor for months, with exacting precision to keep the spirit of each piece alive.”

Mr. Delman says he is hugely impressed with this year’s Scripps Ceramics Annual.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Mr. Delman said. “Each of these artists fully and clearly understands all of the technical details of working with clay and each is extraordinary in the way they manipulate the material.” 

The Scripps Annual is on view through April 9 at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, located at 1030 Columbia Ave. in Claremont. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For information, call (909) 607-4690 or visit

—Sarah Torribio



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