Jars of Clay (Studio): A First Friday Triple Play at Old City’s tower of ceramic arts

Since 1974, The Clay Studio in Old City has offered a home to innovative ceramic artists and exhibitions in the Philadelphia area looking to both embrace the form’s traditions and expand its horizons beyond any notions of ‘craft.’

Starting this First Friday, March 6, the multi-level, 137-139 N 2nd Street tower is playing host to three separate exhibitions of varying size (literally, in the case of “Small Favors”) and diverse vision with the site-specific installation of Sara Parent Ramos: Praya dubia, “Small Favors XV: Expanding the Field,” and “Joshua Hebbert: Stargazing.”

Jennifer A. Zwilling, the Clay Studio’s Curator of Artistic Programs quickly responded to my interview request regarding the whys and wherefores of this First Friday, and the whole of Clay Studio’s 2020/2021 seasons. 

A.D. Amorosi: What do you see as the Clay Studio’s goals and aesthetics for 2020/2021?
Jennifer A. Zwilling: Over the next two years The Clay Studio is focused on both, our constant goal of providing access to high-quality ceramic art in our gallery to the local art community, as well as the national and international ceramic and craft art community, and our immediate focus on celebrating this historic moment as we prepare and move into our new home. That celebration extends to focusing on our current and former Resident Artists, through a series of exhibitions – first current Resident Artist Joshua Hebbert: Stargazing, up now, and then from August to November celebrating 6 solo exhibitions. Andrea Marquis, Lisa Naples, Amy Shindo, Rain Harris, Heather Mae Erickson, Peter Barbor, and Alex Ferrante. The 5 women artists will have their work up from August to November, a period that will be kicked off with an exhibition 100 Years 100 Women which will consist of 100 plates made by 50 contemporary ceramic artists each celebrating a different woman in their personal, social, or cultural histories. In December we will mount our last exhibition in our current building, 2020 Hindsight: Exceeding Expectations since 1974 with a focus on our Founders and key artists who have worked hard to build The Clay Studio from a group of 5 friends looking for shared studio space to our current status with 17 staff members serving tens of thousands of people each year through classes, events, gallery, and shop.

A.D. Amorosi: How do the three exhibitions that you have starting March 6 fit that ideal?
Jennifer A. Zwilling:  Joshua’s show kicks off our focus on Residents. Sara Parent Ramos’ work is indicative of one of the cutting edge trends in the art world to work across material disciplines. Her examination of the collective organism, Pray dubia, is a perfect reflection of how The Clay Studio works, as a group of people (separate organisms) united to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. Small Favors is, in a way, another reflection of that same idea. Individual artists’ works united to create a sense of wonder amongst the viewers at the breadth of what is possible in ceramic art.

A.D. Amorosi: How and why did Sara Parent Ramos’ site-specific installation – the microbiome – become something the Clay Studio wanted involvement with? And what can you explain about its design? What is it we will see when we step into her vision?
Jennifer A. Zwilling: Sara Parent Ramos won the Emerging Artist Award at the National Ceramics Conference (NCECA) in 2018. Since hearing her artist talk and seeing her exhibition there, we have wanted to host an exhibition of her work. When you walk into the small/focus gallery, you will experience an environment that surrounds you with many individual sculpture groups, each consisting of beautiful, fascinating elements themselves, all connected to form one large installation work of art.

Sara Parent Ramos

A.D. Amorosi: The goal behind “Small Favors” is to engage artists in the challenge of making pieces on a very small scale. Whether these artists are doing something in league with their usual work or are crafting a new – what are those deepest challenges? And can you give me an example of each?
Jennifer A. Zwilling: This year’s Small Favors, our 15th anniversary, invited artists working in other media to contribute. The infusion of glass, metal, wood, and fiber, has added a new element of excitement to the installation. We also have the biggest showing this year with close to 500 works. Derek Reeverts’ “Safe Space” is a great example of an artist who takes the chance each year to create an entire world within the cube. Incredible detail and a mysterious narrative make the best of the 4-inch challenge. Margarita Hagan’s “La Mer,” shows a tiny version of work that she has made on an incredibly large scale for various installations at museums and science centers around the world. The detail is still breathtaking on a tiny scale. Another artist, Mac Star McCusker made a powerful political statement even on such a small physical scale with “Theirs and Theirs” 

Mac Star McCusker’s “Theirs and Theirs”

A.D. Amorosi: Joshua Hebbert’s work seems to be, at its heart, about deconstruction. What strikes you as most poignant and personal in his relationship to the landscapes around us (political, whimsical, psychological)? How and why does it touch you? And again what could we expect to see?
Jennifer A. Zwilling: I believe Joshua’s work is about contemplating the universe, and the multiple realities that exist for each of us. Each work is achieved through various technical processes that, when combined in different ways, result in stunning works revealing different layers of the whole object. To me, this reflects how each of us engages with the world around us, bringing our specific set of experiences, which creates a different outcome for each person in any given circumstance. The room is bright and graphic, punctuated with black and white vessels that bear close examination to understand their layers and relationships to each other. Punctuations of color from exotic flowers add to the otherworldly feeling in the space.

Joshua Hebbert

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