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Artists Come Together for “Clay Connection”

Collaborative work by Richard Aerni & Carolyn Dilcher-Stutz.

Faith Benedict was looking for a way to inspire the growing number of students in her ceramics class at Keuka College, and the result is a new exhibit: “Clay Connection,” featuring the work of eight regional potters and sculptors from Rochester to Syracuse.

Although most of the artists don’t personally know one another, they have in common a passion for creating art from the same original element: clay. And though each piece began in the same form—as a wet, misshapen lump—the variety of shapes, sizes, colors and uses of the pieces that result reflects the distinct styles and skills of each artist and further contrast just how dynamic clay itself can be.

The array of pieces now adorning new gallery space in Lightner Library even features a handful of collaborative works where two artists teamed together to display the contrast possible between large-scale pottery and small-scale sculpture. While Richard Aerni of Rochester fashioned the foundational jars or pedastals of each piece, Carolyn Dilcher-Stutz, also of Rochester, designed the intricate, hand-sized animals – birds, a deer – atop each one.

Whimsical teapot crafted by John Smolenski

Nearby, other animals, particularly fish, serve as whimsical, cheery handles on several teapots crafted by John Smolenski of Skaneateles. The former Keuka College professor attended the School of American Craftsman at Rochester Institute of Technology, then served as artistic mentor to Benedict and other students during her undergraduate years before he went on to teach high school art in Skaneateles.

The “Clay Connection” exhibit also features the work of husband-and-wife artists Ann Bliss and Steve Pilcher of Butternut Pottery in Jamesville, N.Y., along with Peter Valenti, and David Webster, both of Skaneateles, and Peter Gerbic of Middlesex. Light refreshments will be served at the artists’ reception held from 4:30 – 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4 at the gallery inside Lightner Library, with a brief artists talk from Smolenski on the craft, starting at 5 p.m. The reception is open to the public and the gallery is open daily during library hours.

According to Benedict, her personal connections with potters such as Smolenski led to new connections with additional potters and sculptors until she had gathered eight masters of the craft. The show includes artists using traditional methods of firing high-temperature stoneware, as well as some who use a single-firing technique.

An earthenware piece by Gerbic

Peter Gerbic of South Hill Pottery in Middlesex has been working with clay since 1964 when he first started at the American School of Craftsmen at RIT, where he trained under the tutelage of renowned sculptor Frans Wildenhain. While initially trained in functional pottery, Gerbic said, like his “master” Wildenhain, he eventually moved into sculpture, even murals, which retain the same, brick-colored hue as the earthenware in which he specializes. Even its name, terra cotta, correlates to its nature as “baked earth.”

“At the moment, I’m doing straight sculpture, which means lots of curves, at least the way I do it,” Gerbic said with a chuckle. “My emphasis is more on the sculptural elements – the bark on trees, the way sand or snow moves from the wind, human body forms, fruit forms, the way a stream is etched by the water, rocks that have been sandblasted, or water itself. I’m trying to create my own interpretation with the bedrock of Great Nature behind me.”

Gerbic’s works also include some ceremonial pieces, which he described as “my interpretation of Native forms and designs and representations that speak to larger dimension of our life.”

A work by David Webster

According to Benedict, seeing what other artists are doing, with the same material she works with, will inspire her, not only as a fellow craftsman, but as a teacher.

“It’s important for the students to understand that every one says something different with their work – what is your voice? We’re all on different paths and experience different things,” said Benedict, drawing a contrast between her own functional pottery –plates, bowls, mugs and such – and the bronze or clay sculptures for which her husband, Professor Emeritus of Art Dexter Benedict, is known.

“No two of us are the same,” she said. “When we’re talking about the connection at Keuka College, I think that’s what is exciting about an organization, where you have all this diversity, this common bond of wanting to learn. It’s our glue”

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