Ceramics competition presents awe inspiring art

Photo: Professor McCoy proudly stands beside his winning artwork, “Tryptich” at the UD Regional Ceramics Competition. /Photo by Matthew Pedersen

The University of Dallas continued a decade old tradition with its Regional Ceramic Competition, displaying some of the finest examples of ceramic art created by Texan artists. The competition, which took place the evening of Feb. 13 in UD’s Beatrice M. Haggerty Art Gallery, brought a wide range of diverse pieces, which showed the variety of techniques and influences ceramic artists use.

Dan Hammett, a Professor at the University of Dallas, explained that the event was created to give artists of the region an opportunity to present their work in a public forum.

“About ten years ago or so, I was looking around for possibilities for students, and there were no shows that students could enter,” Hammett said. “Virtually all the shows that were previously established had just gone away. At that point, I decided that it would be a good community contribution for both the students of the University of Dallas and myself to try and find a way to do a show that would feature the artists in our region.”

While each piece was unique, only two artists could win the coveted Best of Show award. These winners were Carol Cook and Paul McCoy. Paul McCoy, a Professor of Art at Baylor University in Waco, spoke about his work “Tryptich”.

“That piece is a group of three vases,” McCoy said. “They’re very simple forms in and of themselves. They were formed on the potter’s wheel. When the clay got stiff, the sides were faceted. Then I used a liquid clay, what we call a slip, to gradually build up the textures on those raised surfaces. Then they were woodfired in a wood kiln for 20 to 24 hours with continuous stoking.

“The color variations on those pieces are the result of ash coming off the burning wood and floating through the kiln, settling on the pieces. When the kiln gets hot enough, the ash melts to form a glaze. This is what we call an atmospheric surface, because the resultant surfaces of the piece depend entirely upon the drafts that are moving through the kiln, the temperature the kiln reaches, the vapors and the wood ash that moves through the kiln.

“Each piece is like a permanent record of what happened in the kiln,” he said. “It’s what we would call a primitive firing technique, but it’s also very sophisticated, because we exceed temperatures of 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.”

While working with the ceramic medium, Professor McCoy mentioned that artists never stop learning or growing.

“This is either my 51st or 52nd year of working in clay, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the possibilities are,” McCoy said. “I’m standing in this room looking at all this ceramic artwork done by all these artists, and I’m wondering how long it will take me to learn how to do what these other people are doing. It’s an infinite realm, and it takes a tremendous amount of practice; time on task. But no matter how long you spend on it, perfecting your art, mastering your art, the form you’re working on, there’s always more. The more you learn, the more there is to learn.”

McCoy was happy to have his art recognized by guest juror, Professor Virginia Marsh.

“One of the reasons I like this show and participated in this show is because of the quality of the jurors the University of Dallas secures for it,” McCoy said. “I’ve been watching Virginia Marsh’s work for decades, and I like to think I’m one of her biggest fans. I’m so blown away by what she does, how she does it, the way she thinks, and again, it’s unbelievably gratifying to be recognized by an artist of that caliber.”

Professor Virginia Marsh, a world renowned ceramic artist herself and respected educator, talked about how it felt to serve as the guest juror for the competition.

“[I am] really excited to be among this group of artists who came together for this,” Marsh said. “Most of the people at the reception are from North Texas, but it brings work from the whole region. It’s exciting to have the students see this great variety of work and to have the public see the really amazing things that are being done.”

Marsh also spoke about what made her select the winning pieces out of 50 incredible works of art.

“That’s hard to say, because there are so many that are really distinguished,” Marsh said. “They were stellar pieces, but I felt that they were so fully considered and so complex. [McCoy] knows when to control the material and when to let go, which is difficult to do.”

Finally, Professor McCoy shared some advice to any artists who may have ambitions of competing in similar events.

“Just don’t stop working,” McCoy said. “Work as though your life depended upon it. Nobody is going to live long enough to experience everything that is out there and to develop all the skills that will help you manifest your feelings visually in a complete way. We just don’t have enough time in one life, so don’t stop working; never stop working.”

The pieces in the Regional Ceramic Competition will remain on display until March 13. The Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery is located in the Art History Building at the corner of Gorman Drive and Haggar Circle on the University of Dallas campus at 1845 E. Northgate Drive in Irving. The gallery, which is part of the Haggerty Art Village, is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday 12:30 to 5 p.m.