Elmhurst Art Museum

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Home Past Exhibitions Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay

Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay

November Richard Bresnahan, Landscape Platter with Sgraffito Field Pattern, 20085, 2010 - January 2, 2011

Highlighting the work of Richard Bresnahan and four of his former apprentices, Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay represents a decade of collaborative effort with the Saint John's Pottery program.  Curated by Dr. Matthew Welch, Assistant Director and Curator of Japanese and Korean Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the exhibition features not only the work of master potter and artist in residence, Richard Bresnahan, but that of Kevin Flicker, professor and ceramicist at University of Minnesota-Morris; Stephen Earp, ceramicist and writer from Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts; Sam Johnson, professor and ceramicist at College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University; and Anne Meyer, ceramicist and sculptor from Saint Joseph, Minnesota.  Each artist presents vastly different outlooks and creative approaches that share a common concern for indigenous materials in relationship to the environment.

Bresnahan’s work has an instinctive Eastern aesthetic, which is not coincidental or unintended; it pays homage to the time he spent in the sea-side town of Karatsu, Japan under the apprenticeship of Nakazato Takashi.   Still employing the careful techniques instilled by Takashi, Bresnahan’s work is a contemporary celebration of the traditional Japanese karastu wheel and chamber kiln.  Ironically, the techniques Bresnahan carried from Japan are what make his work so distinctively regional.  Using locally dug clay, glazes created from indigenous plant material, and firing with wood gathered locally, his work could only occur in St. John’s, Minnesota.  Bresnahan’s craft is found in the subtle nuances of color, shade, and texture.  Over the past 30 years he has developed an intimate knowledge of the St. John’s environment, creating dynamic shades from navy-bean straw ash, fumed seashells, and sunflower seed hull ash.

Process, from beginning to end, has become the medium through Bresnahan communicates.  The level of involvement in material preparation, building, and firing all become evident in the final work.  His reverence for the natural environment is embodied in all aspects of the process, as Stoked curator, Dr. Matthew Welch states, “An abiding respect for ecology and natural systems has always characterized Richard Bresnahan’s philosophy and his ongoing dialogue with fire and clay.  Throughout his long career, he has consistently challenged himself to undertake new firing techniques, to test potential glaze materials, and to devise unique and elegant functional forms.  As a result, the dynamic pottery Bresnahan creates reflects both the specifics of his physical environment – by utilizing local resources – and his own far-reaching artistic vision.”

As seen in Stoked, the work of Flicker, Earp, Johnson, and Meyer all add their own artistic interpretation to the technique and process imparted to them under Bresnahan’s tutelage.  Whether incorporating or building upon Bresnahan’s philosophy, these artists all clearly have adopted his approach.  As Welch states of the exhibition’s collaboration of artists, “…each maker is “stoked” in the best sense of the word – excited about life and the simple act of using the earth and fire to produce objects of great mystery and strength.” 

From Saint John's Pottery and organized by Saint John's University