One glimpse of the picture and I was entranced. It showed an oversized Dixie cup-ish shape with a white matte finish that had been marbled by smoldering wisps. It all hovered weightlessly, floating on a canvas of gray. The smooth, cool outer shell was contrasted with a radiating glow that rose from the vessel's interior. Within the hour, I was at the Guilford Art Center's new exhibit, Bowls.
I walked straight to that gilded raku bowl by Cathie Cantara and it was even more jaw-dropping in person. My brain understood this was a bowl that was a long way from the pit that helped craft it, but the history of its origin-the movement of the veins rising like smoke, the tangible warmth emitted from the gold leafing-left me feeling as though I was peering into the fire. Breaking my gaze and taking a step back, I found myself not only amazed by the work around me, but also by the efforts of jurors Pam Erickson and Richard Davis.
Erickson and Davis, nationally recognized mixed media artists from Ivoryton, chose 35 artists (nine of whom are local) to demonstrate a true diversity of technique, material, surface treatment, and purpose. This is quite possibly the most efficient display that a call for "bowls" could have rendered. Fiber, glass, marble, carved, thrown, pinched, or knitted, squat, extended, oval, squared-any shape or media you could think of is displayed somewhere among Bowls' 51 pieces.
There are sculptural pieces like Lanette Barber's Rain, a metal-smithed jewel that uses an inverted bowl as the substrate for a cluster of barnacle-like discs that appear to represent the concave form created as raindrops hit puddles. There are whimsical ones like the chunky felted rainbow basket that took first prize (Jewel Tone Swirl, also by Barber). And there are those that are pure forces of nature like Karen Roderick-Lingman's soaring and vibrant Sulpher.
Not surprisingly, there are a number that, while fitting neatly into a general "utilitarian" category, do so with subtle twists and turns. Clay Cunningham's stormy Winter Serving Bowls 01 and 02 look like landscape paintings that have been shrink-wrapped around a turquoise husk. Jenny Gaeronski's Bowl Setting for Two is a sea of flawless beauty that is well-suited for the display glass of a china hutch. Andrew Denny's loose and crusty Teabowl, while caked with shimmering glaze, is reminiscent of ancient wares used during Japanese tea ceremonies. And Ted Neal's altered form Tripod Bowl is a unique take on the cereal bowl that's part of the American morning ritual.
Yes, some would say a bowl is a bowl is a bowl. But I embrace my inner pottery nerd and invite you to do the same. Bowls is a mini journey that provides a peek into the history of vessels as a pathway to both ritual and sustenance; the tactile and meditational process that creates these charming artworks; and the enduring beauty that develops when artistry meets the ideal mix of material and form.
Bowls is on display through Sunday, May 1 in the Guilford Art Center's Mill Gallery. The gallery is open to the public daily between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, call Guilford Art Center at 203-453-5947 or visit www.guilfordartcenter.org.
There's More! See the photo gallery at the right of this story.