'Making History' exhibition opens Dec. 1

Graduate Student Shalya Marsh recreates a dough bowl from the Zia Pueblo of the Southwest U.S., originally made in about 1890. Photo by Michael Reinmiller.
Graduate Student Shalya Marsh recreates a dough bowl from the Zia Pueblo of the Southwest U.S., originally made in about 1890. Photo by Michael Reinmiller.

'Making History' exhibition opens Dec. 1

calendar icon12 Nov 2014    

Junior Madelaine Healey re-makes a horse sculpture from the Han Dynasty China. Photo courtesy of Margaret Bohls.
Junior Madelaine Healey re-makes a horse sculpture from the Han Dynasty China. Photo courtesy of Margaret Bohls.
Lincoln, Neb.--Assistant Professor of Art Margaret Bohls’ special topics class “Making History” is giving ceramics students the chance to study the vast history of ceramics by recreating historical objects that will be displayed in an exhibition at the Eisentrager-Howard Gallery in December.

“Making History,” showcasing the work of the Making History ceramics class, will be on display from Dec. 1-5 in the gallery. A closing reception will be held on Friday, Dec. 5 from 5-7 p.m. in the gallery.

The model for this new course came from a class Bohls team-taught at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design with ceramic artist Julia Galloway. The course combines lectures on the history of ceramics with studio time, where students recreate four objects of their choosing from the history of ceramics. They must reproduce the objects as faithfully as possible in scale, technique, materials and firing process, within the capabilities of the UNL Ceramics Studio.

“Art students seem to learn better if they’re making things at the same time as they’re looking at images and reading,” Bohls said. “The other thing that’s really great is that rather than just studying about the history of the objects and the aesthetic qualities about the objects, they’re also learning process and material. And they’re training their eyes to see the real particular qualities of these historic objects. I think it makes it a richer experience for them to be able to study these objects through making.”

The class has 19 students in it, including seven graduate students and 12 undergraduates.

“Everyone helps one another. It’s great to have the grads in there because they really chip in and set a tone,” Bohls said.

Bohls said the class helps fill a gap in the regular art history curriculum.

“Students don’t see a lot of craft objects, and they certainly don’t see a lot of ceramics,” she said. “So I’m trying to flesh out their education in that way. Ceramics is a medium that relies heavily on history and tradition and process and material. I think that it’s important for ceramics students to get that kind of information.”

Rikki Neumann, a senior art major from Lincoln, took the class because of Bohls.

“This is the third class I’ve had with Margaret, and she’s just a great teacher,” Neumann said. “If you’ve ever met anybody who is really into ceramics, we kind of nerd out and geek out on it. And so that’s how Margaret is with this history class, because it’s just something that she’s really passionate about. I knew that about her, so I knew it would be a really awesome class.”

Neumann is making a smiling figure from Veracruz, Mexico; an Egyptian Paste figure of Isis and her son Horus; and a Sancai vase from the Tang Dynasty.

“I chose those because I have an equal love for throwing and figure,” Neumann said. “I haven’t done as much with the figure, so I wanted to get a little bit more practice on that.”

Neumann said Bohls wants students to get in touch with the person who made the object originally.

“That’s what I was trying to do. The figure one, I got done making it, and it was almost like I was in a trance when it was done because there’s so much detail,” she said. “When I was done with it, I was in the zone the whole time I did it. You take a step back, and you really were in that person’s shoes making it, trying to figure out how they did it.”

Second-year graduate student Shalya Marsh, of Cambridge, N.Y., is making a series of Islamic tiles, a Zia Pueblo dough bowl, a pre-Columbian standing figure and a Japanese Imari ware over glaze enamel plate.

“The most challenging and also the best part of the Making History class has been recreating the objects using the original methods and materials,” Marsh said. “This requirement meant that some of us had to make our own tools, do extensive glaze and clay testing and even make and remake the pieces in order to get the required result. Due to this, we gained a better understanding of materials and building methods that could influence the way that we build in the future.”

First-year graduate student Louise Deroualle, who is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is making objects from ancient Native American cultures, focusing on the Anasazi culture for one of the projects and on the Mimbres culture for another one.

“I’ve always been interested in pre-Columbian pottery and until coming to UNL, I was more familiar with South America’s ancient cultures,” she said. “I am currently living in the U.S. studying in an American university and with American teachers and fellow American grad students, so it just made sense to study the ‘local’ culture. By studying the Southwest ancient cultures, I’m studying the roots of ceramics in the U.S.”

She said she is learning both technical craft skills as well as historical facts in the class.

“How will it influence my work? I guess we will see soon in the next few months or in the distant future,” Deroualle said. “But for example, the Mimbres culture I’m researching have exceptional decorations on their pots, and their way of organizing the space and dealing with negative and positive images is exquisite. I already know that being aware of that has changed my perception of how I’m conceiving some of my pieces.”

Larry Buller, a graduate student from Henderson, Nebraska, is making Mimbres burial bowls, Islamic tiles and English marble ware mugs.

“Generally speaking, I chose my objects because of personal interest in the form and surface qualities,” he said.

He appreciates the lectures in the class.

“The best part of the class is listening to the lectures and viewing ceramic forms from history that are astounding in their beauty and complexity,” Buller said. “Furthermore, learning about the cultures in which this work was made was very interesting as well.”

Jess Tommeraasen, a sophomore art major from Lincoln, says the class combines two of her favorite subjects—history and ceramics.

“I am making three objects for the class, and they range in time period from about 2,000 B.C. to 500 C.E. from Peru, Iran and Egypt,” she said. “I chose those objects because of my interest in hand-building versus wheel throwing. I chose objects I  knew I could hand build, but were still challenging enough.”

She also wanted to be intrigued by how they were made.

“I think my favorite part of this class has been learning about the pieces in lecture and then seeing these pieces from history come alive in the studio, watching the process of them being made, not only in my pieces but in my classmates,” Tommeraasen said.

She said it’s beneficial to learn the history of ceramics.

“We wouldn’t know what we know about ceramics today if we didn’t have thousands of years and generations before us to experiment and to learn from,” she said. “I also think it is quite unique to ceramics, because not only do we learn from their techniques, but we also know many other things from ancient cultures where sometimes all that has survived is their pottery.”

Artists typically influence other artists.

“Artists since the ancient times have always influenced each other because when they saw new things for the first time that they had never thought of, they were inspired to imitate and try it on their own work,” Tommeraasen said. “If you look closely, you can see the elements of different cultures combined into a single piece of artwork, which is what makes studying it today so interesting.”

Lisa Guevara, a senior art major from Omaha, Nebraska, is making a Comala-style gopher vessel from Colima, Mexico; a Tz’u-chou ewer from the northern Song Dynasty of China; a harvest jug from 14th century Devon, England; and a 19th century soup cup from Puebla, Mexico.

“I chose my objects based on characteristics and processes I’ve avoided or never worked with in my own work,” she said. “For instance, the ewer and jug require a lot of sgraffito carving into the pot, the soup cup uses majolica and stain painting, and three require intricate handles, all of which I tend to avoid in my work for whatever reason. It gives me a chance to experiment and learn process.”

Guevara said it’s incredible how these pieces survived.

“Some of these pieces required so much sophistication in both design and technical aspects, and it’s amazing that after all these years, they can still survive,” she said. “Just because it’s a craft doesn’t make it any less important or powerful.”

An important part of the class is the exhibition, said Bohls.

“What happens when students install the work in the show is they have to conceptualize the relationship between those objects,” she said. “When we talk about them and give slide lectures, we have to divide them up in some way, so we divide them by culture and time period. But there’s all this information that goes across borders. It is also great for them to begin to see the relationships and even cultures that never necessarily had any contact with one another. Developmentally they go through the same stages in making things, so you can see real, strong relationships. It’s a physical activity where they’re moving things around in the gallery and thinking about what should go with what.”

Neumann said it will be a good experience for all of the students.

“There are a lot of grad students in the class, and they have already had their own exhibitions,” she said. “But a lot of the undergrads haven’t. So I think that’s a really good experience for us to be able to curate the show and do it as a team.”

Deroualle said those attending the exhibition will learn something, too.

“I think the show will be great. All of the students are working on amazing pieces and really doing a great job on reproducing them,” she said. “Also, by having the gallery filled with historical ceramics pieces from all time periods, cultures and places, it will give the audience the dimension of the ceramic history and its importance and relevance throughout the history of civilization.”

Marsh said everyone is excited to see all of the work in the gallery.

“It will be a wonderful culmination to months of hard work and research,” she said. “I would like to encourage everyone to come and see the exhibition. It will be a great opportunity to see a variety of ceramics throughout history.”

The Eisentrager-Howard Gallery is located on the first floor of Richards Hall, which is at Stadium Drive and T sts. on the UNL city campus. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 12:30-4:30 p.m. Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public.