UNL Ceramics alum LaBar wins 1st place grant from Groot Foundation

Ryan LaBar with “Made in China,” wheel thrown porcelain, 52” x 47” x 30”.
Ryan LaBar with “Made in China,” wheel thrown porcelain, 52” x 47” x 30”.

UNL Ceramics alum LaBar wins 1st place grant from Groot Foundation

calendar icon30 Oct 2015    

Lincoln, Neb.--UNL Ceramics alum Ryan LaBar (MFA 2010) has received a 1st place grant from the Virginia A. Groot Foundation for his work.

“Ryan was a talented and energetic student who approached his work with a great deal of passion,” said Department of Art and Art History Chair Pete Pinnell. “He has developed his career with the same sense of passion. I’m delighted, but not surprised, to see him receiving this kind of recognition so early in his career.”

The Virginia A. Groot Foundation was established in 1988 by Candice Groot, the daughter of Virginia and Lawrence Groot, so that artists working in three dimensions could have the opportunity to devote additional time and resources to the development of their work. The foundation offers three grants each year (up to $35,000, $10,00 and $5,000) to artists who have exceptional talent and demonstrated ability in ceramic sculpture or sculpture.

LaBar said he received a voice mail message from an “art collector” interested in his work was told to call back the next day at 7 a.m.

“I made the call and Penny answered the phone,” he said. “She explained to me that she was Candice's sister and informed me that I had been chosen this year's winner of the Virginia Groot award. I remember my legs wobbling, as I heard this news and I believe my mind went into a fog. I was beside myself and grateful.  It was an emotional response as I had known Candice and her passing was fresh in my mind.  Penny and I talked for some more minutes, and she was excited about this award being a game changer in my professional career. I hung up and soaked in the news.”

Associate Professor of Art Eddie Dominguez said he got a note from LaBar after congratulating him on the grant that said, “It means a lot to hear that from one of my most influential teachers:  ‘You’re not an artist:  Unlearn that!’ (written by you on my studio wall, remaining there for three years.)”

Dominguez said, “Ryan was a wonderful student to watch. He has worked to achieve success. I guess he unlearned that.”

LaBar grew up in Great Falls, Montana. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology and art from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. In 1999 he moved to Helena, Montana, and set up a studio. While pursuing his MFA at UNL, he was the subject of NET’s Nebraska Stories.

He has worked as a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation, the LH Project, California State University Long Beach and Caldera, as well as international residencies in China, Bali, Poland and Denmark. He has spent time at the Kohler factory in Wisconsin and Meissen Manufaktur in Germany.

LaBar recently relinquished his position as the program director of the LH Project in 2014 and made a move to Portland, Oregon, where he will set up his new studio  with support from his Groot Foundation grant.

“I was offered a studio space at OCAC (Oregon College of Art and Craft) for the summer and then I had planned my two month China trip until mid November,” he said. “Upon my return I will commit to a space where I can lay roots and hope to find a large enough studio to offer other artists a working space. I thrive in a community atmosphere and hope to provide much needed artist space to others (at an affordable rate). Some of the Groot award will be used to establish the studio, and the rest will be used on a couple projects I am dabbling with.”

He is currently in Jingdezhen, China, as an invited artist to a new international studio that is set to open soon. He is one of three inaugural artists there, including Lauren Mabry (MFA 2012).

“Receiving this top award has validated my body of work and empowered me to continue pursuing my dreams, however grand they may be,” LaBar said. “I am grateful. I plan on using this money to help validate other’s work.”

His goal is to empower other artists to make a living off their work.

“I was hoping to seek out production possibilities while here in China, but have become dismayed by that idea, as the city of Jingdezhen (the porcelain capital of the world) has become more and more expensive and saturated with product lines,” he said. “I envision a company where artists design a product as a limited edition, and the product is sold commercially to provide an income that supports the artist’s studio practice. Artist becomes designer, in a sense. Time will tell.”