I was drawn to a talk at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, maybe because it involved ceramics and a book signing, and a chance to see an old friend or colleague – and I wasn’t somewhere else as I often am on a Friday. I didn’t know Jennifer McCurdy, although I am aware of her work, but we both seemed familiar to each other when we met. As it turned out, it was an evening well spent as I came away from it with a refreshing reminder of what the arts are truly about – and a book!
Jennifer McCurdy has been selling her porcelain in art shows and galleries for the last thirty-five years, and her work is included in the collections of several institutions, including the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, and the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, CA. She maintains a studio in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.
above: porcelain sculpture, Jennifer McCurdy
Jennifer was in town to conduct a ceramics workshop at the art center, “Testing the Limits of Porcelain in Thrown, Altered, and Carved Sculptures”, teaching some of her techniques for creating the beautiful works for which she is known. Rather than attempting to describe her work, I will let the images speak for themselves. But the work was only part of the talk, as she was promoting a book that is the collaboration of two sisters working in two very different art forms, porcelain pottery and poetry. Her sister, Wendy Mulhern is a poet. The introduction of Vessels – A Conversation In Porcelain and Poetry addresses “the indescribable bond in being sisters – commonalities sometimes obvious to everyone else that sisters barely notice, shared experiences and perspectives no one else knows about”. It eloquently expresses how their two divergent expressions of art, pottery and poetry, both symbolize vessels, or “containers to hold and display what is most precious about life”.
above left: an appreciative gathering of advanced potters hear Jennifer McCurdy read her sister's poetry.
above right: Jennifer McCurdy demonstrating her techniques for cutting and carving 'leather hard' clay - photo courtesy of Bailey Gallery
above: porcelain pottery sculpture with gold leaf, Jennifer McCurdy
Well known potter Glenn Woods (Pottery Boys, San Antonio, FL) introduced Jennifer McCurdy and spoke eloquently of his impressions of the book. He suggested that one should select a poem by Wendy to read each day, to discuss, and to find personal meaning in the words while absorbing the imagery of the clay works. The first 150 pages, titled Part One: The Collaboration, alternate with a poem and a porcelain work, each drawing on the energy of the other. Jennifer selected several of her sister’s poems for a reading, talking between poems about their relationship. A latter part of the book, Part Two: Evolution and Process, offers Intimate thoughts from Jennifer and Wendy about their art. I use the word intimate because the insight is as much about creativity and association as technical process, defining their relationship and similarities as artists and further clarifying their respective mediums, pottery and poetry, as the building of vessels. The book is beautifully photographed and produced. Wendy Mulhern designed it for print herself. You can find it on Amazon, at the Dunedin Fine Art Center and elsewhere.
I shouldn’t paraphrase a poet, but here is the first stanza of Wendy Mulhern’s poem If It Is Art. Just a few words in four lines that leave so much to think about.
If it is art
it will build on everything
that came before it,
and it will add something-