A look at three exhibits on display at the University Art Gallery

TMN features writer Aura Martin visited the University Art Gallery and talked with artists about three exhibits on display.


Wynne Wilbur, Truman State University ceramics professor, first interacted with clay when she was in high school. She said she wasn’t making great work then, but felt like it was something she had to keep doing when she started college.

“I made a pact with myself that if I don’t really improve, then I’ll find another major,” Wilbur said with a smile. “But I kept getting better, so I just stuck with it.”

The Retrospective exhibition in the University Art Main Gallery reflects Wilbur’s 45 years of experience with ceramics, and she will be retiring at the end of this year. Over the years, she has saved the most significant pieces that stood for major improvements of her skills. The pieces currently on display, which include pots, plates and vases, are in chronological order, including works from high school and throughout her teaching career at Truman.

The blue- and brown-lidded vessels in the gallery represent the first technical advancement she made with ceramics.

The lidded jars are fired in a special kiln, and at the end of firing, salt is thrown in that vaporizes and attaches itself to the clay. All the bumpiness on the surface of her jars is actually salt, Wilbur said.

While at Emporia State University, she also worked with porcelain and transparent glazes and liked making pots with handles and feet, as seen with her footed earthenware bowls from the ’90s. In graduate school, she liked exploring form. She was interested in the interplay between images of fruit and vegetables on vessels, such as the Lidded Cherry pot and Peapot, that could contain consumable things.

Another important artistic change was when she started painting on the surfaces of her pots, something she continued during her teaching career at Truman. Recently she has been exploring wildflowers because she spent a lot of time in Colorado, where she is planning on retiring.

“Clay is just a remarkably versatile medium,” Wilbur said. “There is just so much that you can do with clay and I’m really proud of what I have done over my career.”

Retrospective will be on display until March 1.

Dreamwork: New Work by ceramicists Leah Bowring, Emily Nickel, and Alexander Thierry

Alexander Thierry, 2010 Truman State University alum, joined his former classmates Leah Bowring and Emily Nickel in a showcase of their ceramic artwork alongside their former teacher and mentor, Wynne Wilbur.

“It’s an honor to be showing work with [Wilbur],” Thierry said. “And it’s a great experience to be back with people I was in school with.”

Heidi Cook, Truman gallery director, wanted to bring back Wilbur’s former students to showcase their work alongside hers. The exhibition, located in the Main Gallery, is called Dreamwork. Bowring is interested in fantasy, Nickel explores meditation and Thierry works with memory. Cook said what links Bowring’s, Nickel’s and Thierry’s works are the ways in which they thought to present the mind.

Thierry said the biggest influence on his ceramic work is memory and the loss of family tradition. Many of the pieces in his collection feature chairs. Thierry said chairs are a placeholder for a person, or the idea of a person. They also serve as a placeholder for a collective emotion or feeling, such as someone not being there. He also said those pieces are not functional, such as standing somewhat crooked or having pieces broken off. Thierry said that was a deliberate choice to show what a chair was, what it is and where it could be.

Thierry said his favorite piece from his collection is the table, which represents the remnants of Sunday meals, which reflects the loss of tradition and decay.

“The progressional loss of my grandparents and tradition is really what sparked and motivated the making all of that artwork,” Thierry said.

He said one can learn a lot from clay because, though fragile, clay in a fired state has permanence and meaning.

“I try to tell that story,” Thierry said. “I try to say that memory is a thing. It makes us who we are and as soon as we start losing that memory we become a different person. I think that’s the biggest thing about my work.”

Dreamwork: New Work by ceramicists Leah Bowring, Emily Nickel and Alexander Thierry will be on display until March 1.

Claiming Country: Western Desert Painting from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Heidi Cook, Truman State University gallery director, wanted to bring some non-Western art to campus and the greater Northeast Missouri community. Part of the reason she wanted this exhibition was that Truman is located in Northeast Missouri and there is not much exposure to non-Western art.

“There’s not a lot of other places that display contemporary and historical art at the caliber we do in this region,” Cook said. “So I thought this was a really great opportunity if we could loan this work from the Kluge-Ruhe collection.”

In collaboration with the University of Virginia, she was able to borrow some of the aboriginal art from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection that is currently on display at Truman in the Charlyn Gallery.

The exhibition has eight pieces in it, and each of those works were created by different artists. Most of them were done in the 21st century. All of the pieces are done by artists who work in the western desert region of Australia. The artists include Pansy Napangardi, Makinti Napanangka, Weaver Jack, Harry Tjutjuna, Kathleen Petyarre, Tjumpo Tjapanangka and Paddy Japaljarri Sims.

One of Cook’s favorite pieces is “Thorny Devil Lizard Dreaming” by Kathleen Petyarre. Cook said it is really abstract, just dots against a backdrop, which is a common form of art in western Australia called dot painting. She said although many of the pieces appear abstract, they often correlate to dreaming and creation, which become stories that people pass down from generation to generation, like the aboriginals did.

“The creation of the landscapes and the way that creationary beings interacted with the landscape are important to these people,” Cook said.

Cook said these aboriginal art pieces are wonderful because they operate on multiple levels. She also hopes people will take the time to read the texts that accompany the exhibition to learn more about aboriginal artwork.

“These abstract depictions of beliefs and stories are really important for explaining how aboriginal people relate to their landscapes, the places where they grew up and the places where they often continue to live,” Cook said.

Claiming Country: Western Desert Painting from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection will be on display until March 22.