On a recent Saturday morning KALICO clay studio manager Michell Wang’s hands were shaping the beginning pieces of the community art center’s next public art project.
Hunched over a spinning wheel, her hands covered in gray, Wang occasionally reached for a flat piece of metal called a rib, that can be used to help refine the shapes she was forming from the wet clay.
Called spacers, Wang said the clay shapes she was making will have a 2-inch diameter and be fitted on a metal pole. The spacers will go between larger elements of the sculpture that will stand up to a foot in height. When all the components are combined, the columnar sculptures will be anywhere from 4 feet to 7 feet tall. Depending on participation, there will be three or four completed sculptures.
While the project is beginning with just Wang, by its conclusion, KALICO is hoping that people of all ages will also lend their hands in the creation of the columnar garden sculptures, which are planned for the grounds of the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell. The installation date will likely be sometime in the fall, according to Jemina Watstein, the executive and program director for KALICO.
Starting March 23 people can come down to KALICO during its operating hours and “embellish” the spacers. Embellishing can mean any number of things, like glazing, carving, stamping, or adding clay on top of clay.
“I’m providing the canvas, so to speak,” Wang said.
The spacers are just one way that people will have a chance to contribute to the community art project. People who register for upcoming hand building and wheel-throwing ceramics classes will spend class time working together on a class sculpture which will be fitted between spacers.
Class sizes are eight students each. Wang said in upcoming classes she’ll also discuss the totem poles created by indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest. The columnar sculptures draw from the totem pole form. She said she plans on talking about the concept of cultural appropriation in her classes and that she thinks cultural appropriation is a concept that she knows people may not be comfortable discussing.
“What I want to kind of help facilitate is the reflection of should we call them totem poles? And why wouldn’t we?” Wang said.
Wang said that like most people, her introduction to ceramics came when she needed a credit in high school. “I just didn’t stop after that,” she said.
Between now and then she’s taken courses, found mentors, read books, joined community studios, and even acquired her own wheel. In her classes, she said she likes to introduce students to the elements of visual art, and not just the utilitarian art like creating mugs and bowls, that’s often associated with ceramics work.
“I want the students to feel a little more comfortable making ceramics through that lens as well, because that will translate to as they continue making their utilitarian stuff. It’ll be cool to see what they take from this and how it translates to their growth as a ceramic artist.”
One of the main technical skills Wang will be teaching is creating something that will stay in one piece from start to finish.
She’s also planning on trying to guide the project in a way so that all of the different contributions aren’t completely at odds with each other. Part of that will be discussing a theme in class. She’ll also discuss animal symbolism, and family values and how all of that is represented through the elements of art. She said she’ll also be keeping in mind that part of the mission of the Hockaday is to preserve the legacy of Glacier National Park.
“The Hockaday does have the final say in what can be accepted,” Wang said. “I’m confident that it’s going to be amazing.”
Funding for the project comes from a 2021 through 2022 artist in residence grant provided by the Montana Arts Council. Watstein said the grant was written for both workshops, and for a community sculpture. It’s not the first time KALICO has contributed to the community art scene. The art center was behind the traffic signal box project, and also the Tunnel Vision Project, which brought murals to multi-use pathway tunnels.
“We’re committed to beautifying the city,” Watstein said. “Ultimately we want to uplift our community through the arts.”
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