Soft and feminine folds of flowery ceramics juxtapose the harshness of shattered figurines and wire hangers in the McMaster Gallery's most recent exhibit, Socially Engaged Ceramics.
The ceramics exhibit, features artists Julie Schnell-Madden and Lydia C. Thompson and is co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. It opened at the McMaster Gallery on Aug. 25, 2022 and is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
USC professor of ceramics Virginia Scotchie proposed the idea for, curated and sponsored this exhibit after having previously known the two artists.
Artist Julie Schnell-Madden has been working in ceramics for over 35 years and currently teaches in her home city of Toledo, O.H. Lydia C. Thompson has received a Fulbright Hays Grant — a federal education grant — to study traditional Nigerian architecture, which she said inspired some of her work within the gallery.
Their pieces come together to send a message on inequality and women’s rights through a ceramic medium, which tells the story of each body of work physically.
“Julie makes reference to function with the bowl, which also is kind of genitalia. She's pulling that in. And I think Lydia's making reference to the house, which is oftentimes made out of bricks, which is clay, and so referencing that in her work,” Scotchie said.
Schnell-Madden said her pieces tell a story of femininity but also express the growing fear she feels over a woman’s lack of bodily autonomy and waning reproductive rights. The Rosettes works are a variety of soft folds combined with the harsh image of a wire hanger stabbed through the center of the flower, also seen in her Resistance Under Attack pieces. Schnell-Madden said she used her art to express her feelings through time.
“I designed them to look soft, feminine, comforting. Then when the second group of pieces that have the wire coat hangers in them, those came when the (Roe v. Wade) decision was made, and I kind of couldn't bear things, and I was looking at what I was making, and the only way I could express a lot of the fear and frustration and anger was by literally stabbing those pieces,” Schnell-Madden said.
Thompson said her works are representative of working family homes and the changing communities where they stand. The ceramic homes are filled with shards from her grandmother’s broken figurines that have been fused together again using glaze. Thompson said these shards represent despair faced by working-class families, including the impact the U.S. housing crisis had on such families.
"I think it may be ... social justice in terms of a way of capturing history and still talking about the housing crisis that we're in," Thompson said.
She urges communities to continue to take care of those who are struggling, she said.
Both artists said they hoped to use their artwork to encourage the younger generations to be a part of the change and work to lift up others in society.
“Stay aware of social issues that may not impact you directly," Thompson said. "Everyone needs to give of themselves in order to move the society forward.”
The exhibit will be closing on Sept. 29, 2022. There will be a closing reception and gallery talk from 5 to 7 p.m. that is free and open to the public. Both artists will be present and light refreshments will be served. Schnell-Madden will also be teaching a class entitled “The Movement of Clay” to ceramics students on Sept. 28 and 29.