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.
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.
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.”
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”
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles of 2014 Student Employee of the Year nominees. The winner will be announced at a luncheon Thursday, April 17.
Lightner Library Circulation Supervisor Carol Sackett says it didn’t take junior Kelsey Morgan long to become well acclimated to the library.
In fact, she said the biology major from Lakeview has made it a point to learn as much as she can about the library. And that sets her apart from the regular worker, according to Sackett, who nominated Morgan for the Student Employee of the Year award.
“Kelsey is a valuable asset to the library,” said Sackett. “She volunteers to do extra work and has spent untold hours training new student workers, both during the week and on weekends. She offers her services in any area where there is a need, is highly motivated, and possesses superior leadership skills.”
According to Sackett, Morgan has repeatedly demonstrated her willingness to make the extra effort to complete specific tasks.
“As she has become more familiar with more aspects of library work, Kelsey continually increased her responsibilities, and carries out all of her duties without any supervision,” said Morgan. “She is an intelligent, dedicated library worker who deserves this honor.”
“Her determination and helpfulness at the circulation desk, assistance in shelving and shelf reading, and just generally assisting patrons has proven invaluable to us,” said Sackett. “A driving force for good customer services for all of our patrons, Kelsey’s demeanor is outstanding. We have many local townspeople, as well as the D.R.I.V.E. program students, who use our library, and she is patient and helpful to them.”
An outstanding work ethic, Morgan takes a great deal of pride in her work and it shows in all that she does for the library, said Sackett.
“She often substitutes for others in need, and strives to provide the best possible service to all of our patrons,” Sackett added. “She is never idle, asks for additional tasks to complete, and steps up to assist both co-workers and patrons. Her outgoing personality is a great asset. She is comfortable working with our entire staff.
“She is to be commended,” said Sackett. “Not only is she an outstanding scholar in her chosen field, she is also a most knowledgeable student worker. It has been a true pleasure to have her working here.”
Mike McKenzie couldn’t figure out why his mother never returned to her childhood home in western Kansas.
“My brother and I tried numerous times to get her to go back,” said McKenzie, associate professor of philosophy and religion. “We thought it would be fun for to see the place and some of her friends. I just didn’t get it.”
He got it after making the trek to Johnson, Kan., himself.
“It’s an utterly exposed place,” recalled McKenzie. “You’re exposed to winds and weather on all four sides.”
And that made life tough for Maxine Carter, her mother; father, who was a wheat farmer; and sister—especially in the 1930s when the Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms, caused major ecological and agricultural damage on the Southern plains.
The Dust Bowl lasted 10 years and made activities typically taken for granted—breathing and eating—a challenge. Children wore dust masks and women hung wet sheets over windows to keep the dust out of their homes. Crops were blown away.
So powerful were these rolling waves of dust they would “obliterate the sun,” recalled McKenzie’s mother.
And it wasn’t just dust storms that the young Maxine Carter was forced to survive. Tornadoes, ice storms, and blizzards would “force kids into storm cellars and they wouldn’t know if their farm or home was still standing until they came out,” said McKenzie.
Maxine Carter was born in 1922 and moved to Oregon in 1936. She will never return to Johnson or Manter, Kan., where her family lived before heading to the Pacific Northwest. And her son now understands why.
“My mother had a good home life growing up but a scary place,” he said. “I understand why she doesn’t have fond memories of her early life in Kansas.”
While acknowledging the highly personal nature of this story, McKenzie saw it has a perfect fit for his Environmental Ethics class that he his teaching this semester.
“The Dust Bowl is the greatest environmental disaster in this country’s history, and I decided to do a large segment on it in my class,” he said. “I couldn’t bring my students to Kansas so I am bringing Kansas to them.”
McKenzie teamed with Troy Cusson, instructional design manager in the Wertman Office of Distance Education (WODE), to create a video that features an interview McKenzie did with his mother in January as well as photos his grandfather took in western Kansas in the 1930s.
And, he partnered with John Locke, director of instructional design and multidisciplinary studies in WODE, to construct a Dust Bowl exhibit in a Lightner Library display case.
“Students and others will see artifacts from the Dust Bowl and the display case itself looks like a farmer’s cabin from the 1930s,” said McKenzie. “There is even some actual Kansas dust.”
One of Locke’s biggest challenges was to find a way for people to view the video (it runs on a loop and headphones are available for listening) without impinging on the “rustic” quality of the display. So, he built cabinet and gave it a “rough finish to create an aged look.”
He also created a “window into a dust storm” by backlighting an image of a 1930s dust storm.
“John did a terrific job of bringing 1930s Kansas to life,” said McKenzie.
To further enhance his students’ knowledge of the Dust Bowl, McKenzie is planning a field trip to nearby Hunt Country Vineyards “to see how a modern farmer (Art Hunt) employs sustainability in his day- to-day operations. The class will engage in some hands-on activities and get to see good farming practices put into use, as contrasted with those on the high plains of the 1930s that helped spawn the Dust Bowl.”
Finally, McKenzie recently screened Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl.
“Everyone loves stories,” said McKenzie. “Ken Burns tells a story and that is what we did. It’s a story about my mom. It’s personal, but at the same time it’s educational.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of profiles of Student Employee of the Year nominees. The winner will be announced at a luncheon Thursday, April 18.
To excel at the student circulation desk/lab assistant position in Lightner Library, one needs to work independently while paying attention to details, and possess excellent interpersonal skills and above-average computer proficiency.
According to Carol Sackett, library circulation supervisor, junior Colleen Young does all that and more.
While Young, a resident of Fairport, may only work in the library about nine hours a week, Sackett said “she is an outstanding team player who works well with faculty, staff, and students alike. She is adept at handling any problem that might arise and is confident in all that she does.”
That is why she nominated the unified childhood education major for Student Employee of the Year.
“She is always ready to fill in at a moment’s notice, and her energy and work ethic are to be admired,” said Sackett, who added that Young has worked in the library for two years. “Colleen mastered our Library of Congress system easily, has helped train new student workers, and has a knack for working with others.”
Young’s other duties include shelving materials, working with reserves, and helping others find research articles. She provides computer assistance as needed and directs patrons to peruse research areas.
In addition to her work-study position, Sackett said Young maintains a heavy collegiate and co-curricular schedule.
“She serves as president of the Education Club, secretary for both the Special Education Club and ASL Club, is a member of Spiritual Interest Groups (SIGS) and Sigma Alpha Pi, and a Davis Hall resident assistant,” said Sackett.
After commencement in May 2014, Young anticipates attending graduate school and wants to work with students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Added Sackett: “Colleen has been a wonderful addition to our staff. Although diminutive in size, she is a powerful mentor to the rest of my workers and respected by all. She adapts to change quickly and is a delight to have working at the front desk with the public.”
By day, Penn Yan resident Carol Sackett manages the circulation desk at Lightner Library, a post she has held for 32 years. But through March 7, visitors to Keuka College can glimpse a different side of her, as seen in three oil paintings gracing the walls of Lightner Gallery.
Sackett’s paintings are on display alongside numerous other works from members of Keuka’s faculty and staff, whose job titles may not necessarily disclose the individuals as creative “artists-in-residence.”
Beyond 9 to 5: The Hidden Talents of Keuka’s Faculty and Staff runs through March 7 in Lightner Gallery,located in Lightner Library. It features a range of artistic mediums, including painting, photography, ceramics, glass work, digital art, and film. More than 20 faculty and staff members submitted work for the show, including President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera.
During a special artists’ reception – open to the public – Thursday, Feb. 21 from 4:30 – 6 p.m., the exhibit will also feature select culinary art from four members of the faculty and staff. The exhibit remains open daily during library hours, available online at: http://lightner.keuka.edu