While walking through the center of the Memorial Union at the University of Maine, a bottle of Jack Daniels may catch your eye. Or perhaps it’s the group of food trays lining the wall, all with vastly different appearances. Or it could be the marionette with skull shoulder pads and a bunny head.
No matter what got you to stop and gaze into the Spirit Room in the Union, each sculpture came from the same Ceramics 2 class. Taught by Constant Albertson, the summer class was unique in that only three students signed up — far below the usual requirement of 12 — yet all three needed the course in order to satisfy their undergraduate requirements.
“That was an unusual situation,” Albertson said. “There were three students who needed the class, and I wanted to teach it, but it didn’t reach the sufficient number and was going to be cancelled. It was important for the students to get this class.
“It was a continuation from the Ceramics 1 class,” she continued. “They expanded their information about various surface treatments and decorative traits. They did a lot of work with art history and ceramic history.”
The students had to make three different sculptures, each representing either a self-portrait, a site or their personal interpretation of solace.
“One of the things I always apply to studio classes is that art is about something,” Albertson said. “There was a sketchbook assignment and they were to journal their thoughts on how to interpret that and start doing preliminary research. The studio was open to them 24-7. They’re three hardworking people. They supported one another.”
The first piece in the Spirit Room is a self-portrait by fourth-year art education student Hilary Kane, titled “Christopher, Eve, Benjamin, Hilary.” Four food trays, identical in size but vastly different in texture, hang side by side on the wall. The first displays a drawing of an old cabin, while the tray itself has a wood-grain look to it with green and brown swirled throughout. Next to it is a tray the color of the sky with a necklace of flags hanging from end to end. The third one is grimy and rough, rust-colored like weathered iron. The fourth is a mosaic of the previous three.
“Mine is a composite of all three because I see myself in them,” Kane said. “My brother is so grungy. He works in a metal shop and always has burns and cuts and metal grinds all over his fingers. He gets ideas in his head, and he’ll stay after hours at the shop to finish them and I think I get some of that from him, so I included him in my artwork.”
Kane’s sculpture featured different images that represent settings she remembered from her past or her imagination.
“I took things from my memory, snapshots from different things in nature — I drew a lot of inspiration from children’s books,” Kane said.
For solace, Kane sculpted a small stool out of clay, using the idea of having a place to sit and relax to represent a place you can find solace.
“I like the idea of looking at something and thinking, you can sit but really you can’t,” Kane said. “It’s made out of clay, it’s pretty brittle. It’s more symbolic.”
Symbolism is something that is also profound in fourth-year art education student Blake Eden. A fan of non-traditional art, Eden’s work is heavily influenced by mythology.
“I’ve always been interested in ceramics, but utilitarian vessels like vases and teapots never interested me,” Eden said. “I’ve always been more sculptural. I’ve always been into the artwork that you can pick up, look at and examine from all angles.”
Angular perception is present in all three of Eden’s pieces. Depending on where you look on each sculpture, it tells a different part of a story, like in the piece “Medusa was Framed,” an oval-shaped jug with a hollow snake for a spout.
“It originally started out as a rum jug, but it turned into a coffee type jug. Maybe an Irish breakfast rum jug,” Eden said with a smirk. “I’ve always liked the story of Medusa and the possibility that maybe Medusa wasn’t in the wrong. Maybe Perseus was overeager. I imagined this one from the stance that Medusa was the protagonist and Perseus was the Antagonist.”
As for its functionality, Eden is just waiting until the showcase is over.
“It’s glazed on the inside — I’m actually really excited,” he said. “I have a bottle of Remy [Martin Cognac] VSOP ready to be poured into it.”
Eden’s last piece, a self-portrait titled “Mayday,” has two different meanings depending on how it is viewed.
“I wanted to display it on a mirror so you could see the underside,” Eden said. “The top of it shows my successes, things I’m good at and that’s what you would see if the plane was grounded and not in the air. But as soon as you take off you see my failures. You wouldn’t see the failures unless it was taking off onto a new project.”
While Eden has experienced different studio art classes, the availability of the professor and the studio itself was unlike anything he had experienced.
“The one-on-one time with the teacher was extraordinarily useful,” Eden said. “With classes of at least 10, the teachers would still make sure you get time with them but you had to fight for it.”
Fourth-year art education student Courtney Connor echoed that sentiment, mentioning that her ability to work on her projects at any time helped the process.
Entitled “Prize,” Connor’s self-portrait piece is the largest in the showcase, weighing upwards of 50 pounds and taking about 6 hours to securely hang on the wall. With a large blue flower as the background, a cat-like face with blushing cheeks was displayed in the middle.
“I thought the flower and the lace pattern and the blush cheeks were all really girly and I wanted to juxtapose that with a severed head on a plaque,” Connor said. “When I thought of self-portrait I thought of the way people really focus on looks when they’re judging a person, and I guess a lot of the way I understand myself is through looks. So the idea of putting your looks as a prize was kind of interesting to me, because I think it’s bulls— a lot of the time.”
Connor’s other hanging piece was an interpretation of site or place, named “Horn of Plenty: Life Unbounded.” A ceramic cornucopia holding sculpted grapes, squash, two hands and a real dried flower that had been dipped in glaze.
“I took site or place as the place I’m at in my life currently, emotionally and mentally,” Connor said. “I got the idea this summer while with good friends and [while] meeting new friends. I felt like I was at a place of plenty.”
Connor purposely designed two of her pieces to be mountable, wanting to display her work in the future.
“I started thinking, when you make something out of clay, what are you going to do with it after,” she said. “I stuck to the idea of mounting them on the wall.”
The last piece Connor made was her attempt at solace and humor. Connor sculpted a large vessel in the shape of a Jack Daniels bottle, freehanded the label and, for good measure, added a bottle nipple on the top.
“The definition of solace is a place of consolation, contempt or sadness, and I thought the way I deal with sadness is forgetting about it,” she said. “Drown it with some Jack. I guess it was my attempt at humor. The nipple represents the idea of relying on what’s underneath the nipple.”
And with any bottle of Jack, the real prize is inside.
“You can take the nipple off. It’s padded and lined with red silk, so I thought keeping something nice in it, something you cherish, which would be kind of ironic.”
The artwork will be on display in the Spirit Room from Sept. 4 to Oct. 19.