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Ohio Northern A&D Professor Curates Show of Wood-Fired Ceramics

Ohio Northern University Professor of Art Luke Sheets has curated an exhibition of ceramic work that is on display at the ArtSpace/Lima Gallery in Lima, Ohio. “For the Fire: Makers of Wood-Fired Ceramics and Selections from Their Collections” features eight ceramicists: John Balistreri, Mark Goertzen, Cary Hulin, Eva Kwong, Dick Lehman, Kirk Mangus, Mark Nafziger and Luke Sheets. The show opens this Friday, September 17 and runs through October 30.

An opening reception is planned for September 17 starting at 6:30p.m. at ArtSpace.

While selecting and organizing the work for the exhibit, Prof. Sheets was convinced that making and collecting go hand-in-hand. “Artists need input to help stimulate their output,” said Sheets. “But, what is it about these pieces that inspire these wood-fire artists enough to bring this work into their homes to interact with on a daily basis?”

 “For the Fire” shows the work of several prominent ceramic artists along with a piece from each of their personal collections. All of the artists in the exhibition work with wood-fired kilns and live or work between I-80/90 and US Route 30.

In the west, Dick Lehman and Mark Goertzen operate the Lehman-Goertzen studio in Goshen, Indiana and fire in Mark’s kiln in Michigan. Mark Nafziger of Brush Creek Pottery is resident potter at Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio. John Balistreri is professor of art in ceramics and head of the 3D studios at Bowling Green State University. Cary Hulin runs the Holmes County Pottery in Big Prairie, Ohio, firing one of the largest wood-kilns in Ohio. And, finally, ending in the east, Kirk Mangus, professor of art, and Eva Kwong, adjunct faculty, are both internationally-renowned artists who teach at Kent State University.

“One of the goals of this exhibit,” explained Sheets, “was to showcase the tremendous variety within the wood-fire aesthetic as not all wood-fired pots are the same. In fact, though most fired ceramics today is fired with either gas or electric, the vast majority of historic ceramic work was fired with wood. Only after petroleum-based fuels and electric kilns became cheaply available did wood stop being the fuel of choice.”

Prof. Sheets further continued by saying, “Then, in the 1960s, Japanese potters began relearning the use of more primitive wood-fueled kilns to recapture the look of the older historic pottery they admired. These kilns did not protect the pieces from the flying ash given off by the burning wood, as the more modern designed wood-fueled kilns did, but allowed it to change the surface of the pieces. This interaction between ash and piece is the basis of the current “wood-fired” aesthetic and what distinguishes wood-fired work from work fired in kilns using other fuels. This exhibition helps to show the variety of surfaces and finishes possible in the various wood-fired kilns commonly used today.”

Beyond exhibiting the work of these artists, this exhibition also invites the audience into their homes, as it were, to experience a sampling of the art that inspires them and has contributed to the work they create. Whether it’s the first piece the artist collected or the work of a dear friend, these pieces all serve to inspire.

Admission to the Ellen Nelson Gallery at ArtSpace is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10a.m.–5p.m., Saturday, 10a.m.–2p.m. and closed Sunday and Monday. Please contact ArtSpace for additional information (419.222.1721).

ArtSpace/Lima is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing visual arts to the West Central Ohio region including. Its organization occupies a turn-of-the-century three-story brick building in the North West quadrant of Town Square in Downtown Lima, Ohio.

Prof. Sheets is an assistant professor in ceramics and director of the 3D program at Ohio Northern’s department of art & design. He earned his BFA from Ohio Northern University and his MFA from Bowling Green State University. His research interests include experimenting with clays and glazes to discover how they react with wood-kiln firing and incorporating local materials into the process. His work has been accepted into many national competitions including the Majestic Galleries’ National Juried Competition 2009, the “Drink: Functional Forms for Every Libation” international competition, the 8th Annual National Juried Cup Show and the 6th Annual “It’s Only Clay” National Exhibition. Recently, he presented a paper entitled “Teaching the Fire: The Wood-Kiln in Ceramics Pedagogy” at the First European Wood-Fire Conference held in Bröllin, Germany. In 2005, he had work included in “500 Cups: Ceramic Explorations of Utility and Grace,” a book published by Lark Books. At ONU, Prof. Sheets teaches ceramics, sculpture and 3D design. He also is the adviser to the Kappa Pi art honorary.

The 2010–11 academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the Bachelor of Arts degree in art at Ohio Northern University. Growing from a single-discipline school, the department offers both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with majors in advertising design, art education, graphic design and studio arts with concentrations in two-dimensions, three-dimensions and art therapy. The department of A&D holds memberships in national organizations such as the National Art Education Association, College Art Association, Foundations in Art: Theory and Education and the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts. The department is also recognized in the second edition of “Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers” as one of the best creative programs nationwide. For additional information about the department of art & design or the University’s 2010-11 Arts Exhibition Season, contact the department at 419.772.2160.