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Ceramics Capstone

by Aug. 20, 2019, 1:06 PM

This tall, earth-tone glazed vase is one of Susan DeMay’s classroom demonstration pieces, 17x8x8 inches, completed in stages throughout a semester for an assignment involving numerous objectives for honing pottery wheelwork techniques. Photo by Bill Luton
This tall, earth-tone glazed vase is one of Susan DeMay’s classroom demonstration pieces, 17x8x8 inches, completed in stages throughout a semester for an assignment involving numerous objectives for honing pottery wheelwork techniques. Photo by Bill Luton

Clay artist Susan DeMay’s retirement exhibit showcases a three-pronged approach to ceramic art

From the day in 1977 that Susan DeMay, MS’79, arrived at George Peabody College for Teachers to study with artist and professor Michael Taylor in the basement ceramics studio at East Hall, her journey as a ceramic artist has followed three paths.

Vessels, a 12x12x4-inch classroom demonstration piece, is made from firm slabs of clay that were cut and joined to form a rhomboidal-shaped box. Made for DeMay’s Sculptural Clay course, the piece showed students a possibility for slab, pinch and extruded constructions. Photo by Bill Luton
Vessels, a 12x12x4-inch classroom demonstration piece, is made from firm slabs of clay that were cut and joined to form a rhomboidal-shaped box. Made for DeMay’s Sculptural Clay course, the piece showed students a possibility for slab, pinch and extruded constructions. Photo by Bill Luton

One evolved from her subsequent 35-year teaching career at Vanderbilt, with pieces made during lecture-demonstrations that showed students the complexity of ceramic art—its technical demands, historical contexts, and ways to incorporate personal aesthetic. These demonstration pieces often resulted in work that she prizes. Another path evolved from her own pottery studio in Smithville, Tennessee, which for years has supplied colorful handmade tabletop wares to museum stores such as those at the Tennessee State Museum and the Frist Art Museum, among others. The third path was based on her own artistic vision in creating original small-scale sculptural designs, often constructed using the slab method rather than being hand thrown.

All three types of work are being showcased this summer in Divergent Practices at Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery (through Sept. 13). DeMay, who officially retired from teaching at Vanderbilt in August, says she plans to use her time to discover new artistic paths.
“Art thinking does not have to be linear, sequential or convergent,” she says. “I plan to fully explore the many ‘right answers’ available to me as I go wherever inspiration takes me.”

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