Sunday, February 11, 2018

Summary of Research

by Grace Tessein

Over the past nine months the 2017 Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award has enabled me to take multiple research trips to Philadelphia, New York City, and France. These experiences allowed me to further explore topics I was interested in as I transitioned into my final year at Louisiana State University. From these experiences, I have gathered sources that have played a major role in the content and imagery of the body of work I’m making for my thesis exhibition.

While in Philadelphia I visited the Mütter Museum for the first time. The museum is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and its original purpose was for biomedical research. The collection is full of scientific anomalies, gruesome medical tools, and casts of curious body parts. Several displays captured my interest but in particular, Hyrtl’s wall of skulls and the plaster cast of Eng and Chang Bunker have stuck with me. The skulls are quite overwhelming when one first enter’s the first major gallery. The Mutter Museum describes it as follows:

Hyrtl Skull Collection, Mütter Museum, Source: Mütter Museum Website
"The Mütter Museum acquired this collection of 139 human skulls from Viennese anatomist Joseph Hyrtl (1810-1894) in 1874. His work was an attempt to counter the claims of phrenologists, who held that cranial features were evidence of intelligence and personality and that racial differences caused anatomical differences. Hyrtl’s aim in collecting and studying the skulls was to show that cranial anatomy varied widely in the Caucasian population of Europe.

Each skull is mounted on a stand, and many skulls are inscribed with comments about the person’s age, place of origin, and cause of death. " 

What I found most fascinating about this display was the information given on each skull. By giving the skulls a name, a place, and an event, felt emotionally invested in them. Without such information, their identity is lost and so is my compassion to see beyond the rows and rows of skulls. I think the catacombs in Rome or Paris lack this identity and connection to humanity that Hyrtl's achieve. 

The other piece that struck me as important was the plaster cast of Eng and Chang Bunker. They were conjoined twins that were attached at the torso. The plaster cast is from the hip up. The part that I found most compelling was the hair on their heads which was stuck in the plaster. This is what made the cast of the twins feel present; the small part of their bodies accidentally attached to the object in the glass case. The hairs gave them a real place in existence.   

At the Mütter I enjoyed the objects that revealed the identity of the person they belonged to. They are the pieces that connect the present object to the past. In my current body of work, I have been exploring how an object from the past grounds a memory for the present and future. Hair has become a key material in several sculptures I'm currently working on. My hair is the part of my body that will last a very long time after I die. It does not break down the way skin and flesh does; it often remains as true as it was in life. The hair of mummified humans still retains color and style thousands of years later. The Bunker twins' hair will remain in that cast for a very long time. My hair ties me to my past; it is part of my mother, my father, their mothers and fathers, and so on.
Dearest, artist's hair and cotton, 2018

Elements of funerary sculpture and objects from the 18th and 19th century are playing a larger role in the pieces I'm making. The large ceramic coffin I made in the summer while at Tyler School of Art is still being worked on post firing. The interior will be filled with flowers from my late grandmother's garden which will been seen through an opening in the face. They are the memento I keep to place her back in the garden which she no longer tends.
In progress picture of in ceramic coffin

The funerary sculptures and reliquaries I saw while in France are also changing the direction of my work. I have started to examine  presence of the monument as well as the fragment as a means of remembrance. I'm currently sculpting clay structures similar to those found marking tombs in Père Lachaise Cemetery. The structure pictured below will be the base to another sculpture with will act as a reliquary for a collection of objects from my mother.
In progress clay base in my LSU studio
Père Lachaise Cemetery

Over the next few months, I will be working toward my thesis exhibition, Dearest, which will be May 1 - 5th, 2018 at Glassell Gallery in Baton Rouge, LA. Thank you Northern Clay Center for making the Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award and so many other opportunities available to artists.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2017 Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award- Research in France

Grace Tessein
Louvre Museum

This past month I used a portion of the 2017 Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award to travel to France to research art and architecture related to reliquaries, major historical events, and funerary sculpture/monuments.

The first half of my trip was spent traveling through the Normandy region. The first city I visited was Rouen, in which the Ossuary of Saint-Maclou (Aître Saint-Maclou) is located. I wanted to visit this site because of its strange history. The site was originally used as a mass grave during the Black Death, then as another mass grave for a second plague, a school for poor boys, and recently it was used as a fine arts school. The walls of the half-timbered structure, which were built in the 1500’s, are decorated in carved wooden skulls, shovels and other motifs to illustrate its first uses. In one of the windows behind the dusty glass there is a mummified cat. Being in this space reminded me of the time I spent in Philadelphia this past summer. While preparing a site for new apartments in the Old City neighborhood, a mass grave of plague victims was unearthed. Construction halted to remove the bones. Both places made me think of what really lies beneath the ground I walk on. 

Detail of the Ossuary of Saint-Maclou
 The Ossuary of Saint-Maclou

 Mummified cat at the Ossuary of Saint-Maclou

While in Normandy, I tried to stop in many churches in search of reliquaries. I wanted to see how such precious objects were contained and on display. The body of work that I’m making is examining the preservation of memory through objects. One tiny reliquary I particularly found remarkable was in Bayeux Cathedral. It was behind a wooden door in the church wall and contained Saint Theresa’s “last phalanx of her ear-finger” which is the bone in the tip of your pinky finger. Such a small object was contained in a delicately crafted gold frame. Many of the other wooden doors remained closed.
St. Theresa Reliquary in Bayeux Cathedral

One morning of the trip I traveled to Omaha Beach to walk on the location of the D-Day Invasion. The landscape still bears evidence of those events. It also comes with a peaceful silence that I can’t quite describe. I took a sandwich bag full of sand back with me wondering if some molecule in it was present on June 6, 1944. I feel some urgency to preserve that time, since the people who have lived through it are swiftly disappearing.
Omaha Beach
The second part of my trip was spent in Paris. While there I went to a few amazing museums including the Louvre, the Sèvres Ceramics Museum, and Musée de l'Orangerie. The ceramics collection in the Sèvres was really inspiring for planning new assignments for teaching Beginning Handbuilding at LSU this semester. This vase pictured below was lovely, I look forward to sharing images with my students.

Vase de Beauvais, Manufacture de Sèvres, Simas, Eugène (dècor), Porcelaine dure nouvelle, Sèvres, 1901

Père Lachaise Cemetary was fantastic to see in person. The cemetery is filled with beautifully crafted tombs and bronze sculptures. Some of the figurative sculpture was really compelling; the grasping hands, stone relief, and shrouded figure pictured below were my favorites. It was wonderful to see how death and mourning were depicted in funerary art and sculpture over the past 200 years. 

Père Lachaise Cemetery 

Père Lachaise Cemetery 

Père Lachaise Cemetery 

Overall I feel I am still processing this experience, which was only possible because of the 2017 Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award. So much of what I saw feels relevant and important to the body of work I’m developing and I look forward to sharing how it progresses as I move toward completing my thesis exhibition in May of 2018. I'm sure the two trips, Philadelphia last summer and France this past month, will be key influences for my work after graduate school as well. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Matters of Taste - The Universal Flavors Collection

The relationship between food, plating, and flavor perception is a diverse network of empirical experiences. Articulating taste in food within the general area of image-making, however, presents its own set of problems. Individual discernment and subjectivity create difficulty in visually defining these elements. Ephemeral by nature, an eating experience is shaped by personal preference. Unable to visually translate ideas of taste beyond my own consciousness, I focused on my own interpretation of meals created by the other resident artists (from Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, New Zealand, the United States, and Japan).

From a mind and mouth perspective I interpreted the five universally recognized basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savory) into shape templates to make molds of. I chose the five basic tastes as a comprehensive approach to categorize the cornucopia of ingredients available for human consumption. I also thought about what food the pieces were meant to contain as related to each flavor and investigated how form, color and texture could visually translate these flavor perceptions into ceramic objects.

Over the course of my six-week residency at Guldagergaard, I designed and fabricated a mold or a group of molds for each flavor. I had not done much mold making previously so I was teaching myself mold making while trying to navigate the project perimeters I invented. It was a fun and fruitful challenge. The center has great mold making facilities and I forced myself to stay off the wheel for my entire stay to really dig into a new process without the distractions of making work I am comfortable making.

In that same spirit I restricted myself to formulating colored slips for casting that would add visual interest without any decoration. My goal in making molds was to potentially integrate pieces into my work that I can quickly reproduce and to explore the importance of design in my work, why and how I use it as a vehicle to communicate ideas through my pieces.

After my glaze firing I brought all the pieces into the kitchen and asked the other residents to play with and arrange them. Through their play, I realized there was a game-like element to mixing and matching the flavor forms, creating different and various combinations. I found this unexpected aspect of the work rather exciting.

The body of work that resulted incorporated the shapes I felt had the strongest association to each flavor from my series of food memory drawings. The yellow coffee cup represented Bitter. The oval bowls were Sweet for fruit or ice cream. Table salt cellars ramekins were for Salty. Bread and butter dishes with spreading knife to represented the flavor of Umami. I had some indecision for the Sour form. I ended the residency making a mixing spoon for lemonade. However, I had earlier iterations of citrus squeezer forms that I hope to revisit and redesign to include in the collection. The initial drawing research had a profound effect on the compositions the pieces took on.

On the whole, I am delighted with how the collection turned out. As for the pieces themselves, I gifted the other residents some of the pieces for their involvement in the project and installed the rest in the kitchen of the resident house to be used for the family meals that inspired them.

Lastly, I would like to extended a BIG thank you to Northern Clay Center and the 2017 Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award for the support to complete this project!

Cottle boards set for plaster pour
Molds filled with colored Royal Copenhagen casting slip

Drying forms in molds

A variety of cast forms awaiting the bisque

I cast each form multiple times in casting slip colored with Mason Stains

Bird's eye view of mango, orange, and yellow dishes

The residents arranged flavor form combinations

It was an unexpected treat to see the multitude of combinations created by the artists.





Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tyler School of Art Summer Residency and The Figure in Clay Workshop --Grace Tessein

In late May, I drove from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On the drive through the rolling hills of Northern Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, I kept remembering this odd object I encountered before I left the South. At the LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge, there is a long room dedicated to outdated machinery, vehicles, tools, and decorative trinkets from the 1700s and1800s. The one relic I found most intriguing was a cast iron casket with a glass face. I knew nothing about it, but the image of it resting amongst the dusty objects hadn’t left me at the exit. It resurfaced repetitively on the 1,300-mile drive through rural America. 

Fisk Metallic Burial Case, LSU Rural Life Museum, Baton Rouge, LA 

 Once in Philadelphia, I settled in to the studios at Tyler School of Art to do a two-month residency with the goal of utilizing the 120 cubic foot gas kiln for a large-scale sculpture. I started to search for more information about the casket. I discovered it was called a Fisk Metallic Burial Case and was used in the mid to late 1800s. Spaces that contain human life and leave evidence of a person have been a source of inspiration for me. The Fisk casket was a place for a body that seemed strangely beautiful, materially specific, and carefully ornamented to reflect the person it held inside. I began to build one out of clay using soft slabs to build the hollow form. Building on a cart, I was able to move around the piece freely. When I was close to being finished, I slid the piece into the gas kiln and worked for a few more days to finish the fine details.  

Process Images

In addition to the residency, I gave an artist talk and hands-on workshop on soft-slab construction of the figure at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. This was a fantastic experience and taught me a great deal about doing workshops. Within six hours, most of the class was able to build a nearly life-size clay bust and begin to work on fine details. Ideally, a second day would have been beneficial, but the productivity of the students was really exciting.  

The Figure in Clay Workshop, The Clay Studio, Philadelphia, PA. Photo Credit: Bridget Mae Furnace  

The Figure In Clay Workshop,  Photo Credit: Emily Moody

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Exploring Local Design


Denmark has a rich intellectual and artistic heritage. The Danes are a happy and proud people and have a special relationship with their country and their flag. The Danish flag is everywhere and has a name: “dannebrog”, which means “Danish cloth”. Legend has it that the flag fell from the sky during a battle of the Danish army against Estonia, when they were praying to God to save them from defeat – which worked. I think it’s a quite pretty flag. Its bold red and white colors look great on the background of a clear blue sky. Equally as important to Danish culture is the country’s arts and crafts. Danish artistic sensitivity spans into everyday life transforming architecture, furnishings, tableware, décor, and textiles that become functional art objects.
A visit to the Design Museum in Copenhagen provided an extensive look into the last century of Danish design. Of particular interest was a permanent exhibition entitled The Danish Chair, an International Affair. A diverse collection of chairs told the story of how Danish Modern became an international brand and trendsetting trailblazer. A stunning display of 100 Danish and international chairs line a hexagon-shaped room from floor to ceiling. Each chair is framed in its own clean white box, shown as a series of individual art objects. An homage to domestic design and craftsmanship, the exhibition emphasized 1920-1970, the pinnacle of Danish furniture design. Materials including wood, plastic, metal, and fabric make up a variety of chair styles such as armchairs, dining room chairs, folding chairs, lounge chairs, and rocking chairs. The design and fabrication of each chair was inspiring, yet gained a greater context and presence displayed as a collection. It staged a look into how design trends changed over the years and the many approaches to the modern chair in the 20th century.

“The chair is the piece of furniture that is closest to human beings. It touches and reflects the body that sits on it, with arms, legs, seat and back. It is a designer's touchstone and design history's favorite object. And the chair is one of the most culture-bearing design objects.” (Nikolina Olsen-Rule)

Journeying to the other side of the world without leaving the museum, the exhibition Learning from Japan, highlights the connection of Japanese art as a continued source of inspiration for Danish arts and crafts. Japanism has been a catalyst and important precursor to the modern Danish aesthetic that branded Denmark into a design nation in the 20th century. The exhibition includes 400 works of furniture, ceramics, painting and woodblock prints, textiles, sculptures and lamps. The idea for the exhibition is based on the book, “Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design 1870-2010,” by exhibition curator and art historian Dr. Phil Mirjam Gelfer-Jorgensen. Inspired by elements of nature, intentional design, and quality craftsmanship, the connections between the two cultures are long-lasting and surprising. A shared commitment to form following function, simple lines, and timeless style in elegance, make apparent the thematic threads that tie these two design icons together. The strongest relationship I observed was both countrys’ belief in the beauty of things to make life better. From this concept stems the source for the aesthetic correlations brought to light by the exhibition’s juxtaposition of these two cultures.

Scandinavian design and its famed art objects are not bonded to the artistic institution in Denmark. Examples of Danish style can be seen in everyday architecture and décor, especially within domestic spaces. Described as being fairly minimalist with clean lines, Danish design is highly functional with effective style that is devoid of heavy elements. Only what is needed is used. Deriving this philosophy from inter-war art movements, Scandinavian design is sometimes referred to as democratic design, because of its aim to appeal to the masses through products that are accessible and affordable. However, in an effort to achieve balance, the designs were not stripped of their beauty to make them as easy to use as possible. This theme and continued examples of Scandinavian design where visible as I explored Copenhagen and Skaelskor. The studio and resident house were inspiring specimens of the country’s design sensibilities and histories. Being immersed in these spaces for six weeks had a profound effect on the designs for my ceramic work. Designing through experience and observation seemed effortless when surrounded by constant examples of good design and timeless beauty.

The Danish Flag is hung for national holidays and special events.

Japanese Textile, Design Museum, Denmark
Bridge Set, Design Museum, Denmark

Learning from Japan, Design Museum, Denmark

Learning from Japan, Design Museum, Denmark

Permanent Collection, Design Museum, Denmark
The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

Kitchen, Guldagergaard Resident House

Living Space, Guldagergaard Resident House

Library, Guldagergaard Resident House

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Warren Mackenzie Advancement Award: Residents in the Kitchen


In everyday life food is never presented or served in isolation. Food is always placed in a container either disposable-like packaging or indispensable such as a plate or a bowl. My investigation of plating and platewares has led me to a residency at Guldegargaard International Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark. I started my research investigating the formal elements of dishware, such as color, size and shape that psychologically influence the way in which food is perceived. This commonly neglected element of a meal can affect everything from how we perceive the taste of food to how much we eat. Of particular interest are the socially constructed notions of the likely 
taste and flavor of foods contained in ceramic wares.

  • Size, Shape, and color have an effect on the flavor perception of food. 
  • Blue = salty
  • Red = Sweet
  • Green = sourness 
  • People are happier with smaller portions off of a blue plate
  • Color contrast illusion – look it up, grapes look redder on a blue plate
  • Plate = background (could this be foregrounded?)
  • White is best for dessert plates.
  • Law of opposites, round food needs a square or rectangular plate
  • Aesthetic choices can inform how the diner responds to the dish
I choose Guldegargaard for the opportunity to work with an international population of artists that have an appreciation for the hand and the acceptance of the individual elements in life, both in living and making. As well as for the evening meal rota they practice there. The residents of Guldagergaard take turns cooking a family meal each night. I planned to use the evening meal rota as research and development to document shared meals from different cultures. Each day creating a food memory drawing composition inspired by a dish or ingredient from the last night’s meal. The formal elements of the drawings will inform visual connections between the basic flavors of a meal and individual flavor experiences. I look forward to being inspired by new people, familiar and foreign flavors, and fresh possibilities.

This research will inform the design and fabrication of five slip-casting molds. The forms will be a line, or related series of individual ceramic pieces. This line of functional tableware will be intimate in scale, suitable for one or two person utility. Asymmetry and clean lines will characterize the resulting forms. From a mind and mouth perspective I will interpret the five universally recognized basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savory). Through form, color and texture I will visually translate these biological flavor perceptions into sensorial ceramic objects.

A scene from Copenhagen, Denmark. Copenhagen is historically a maritime city and harbor. The residency is  two trains, a bus ride, and short walk to the resident house in Skaelskor, Denmark from the Copenhagen Airport.
Skaelskor, Denmark is home to the residency as well as loads of wide open spaces. It is the perfect destination for peaceful respite from fast paced city life and uninterrupted studio time for creative development.
This is Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center. The studio use to be a farmhouse for a fruit orchard. The ceramic residency is celebrating its 20 year anniversary in July.
There is typical 6 to 13 residents and staff living and working there at one time. The stay duration range greatly and artists come and go on individual schedules. It also seemed a common trend to extend the stay time. I stayed an extra half a week, and this figure sculptor from New Zealand, Jim Cooper, came for a 6 week residency last September and has stayed for eight months. The studio manager calls Guldagergaard the "Health Farm" because its such a quiet and restful place, and the residents are taken care of and well feed.
One of the main reasons I choose this residency out of all the wonderful international options for residencies is the evening meal rota the residents participate in. Each night the residents take turns cooking for the whole house. Meaning that about once a week I took time off from studio for half a day to make a large family meal for dinner. As much of my form research is food focused, I decided to use these meals as an avenue for research.

I wanted to investigate the relationship between plating and plateware on the multisensory perception of food. I used the evening meal rota as research and development to document shared meals from different cultures.
The morning after each meal I would create a quick food memory drawing using the visual and sensorial elements of a particular dish from the night before. The formal elements of the drawings will then informed visual connections between the basic flavors of a meal and individual flavor experiences. This drawing was meant to capture a Danish delicacy Sister Bread made with beer. Sweet and grainy characterizes its flavors.

 This drawing was inspired by a black rice, sweet potato, and ginger dish made my Joe, a Chicago native artist.

A memory of cucumber salad with pomegranate and mint. The early drawings captured more representation elements based on the color and shape of the food. The later drawings became more abstract.

A memory of a nut loaf bread made by Danish Artist Dorte. She had the most interested baking methodology I have ever seen. She threw ingredients together in a large mixing bowl relying only on instinct of a recipe that had been made time and again. There was no measuring or concern for proper dissolving of the yeast. The resulting bread was perfectly soft and fluffy; it tasted earthy, round, bold, and savory for the myriad of nuts in it.

Traditional ancient nut and seed bread. This Danish delight is made without any flour which yields an incredibly dense yet thinly sliced bread. The Danes are wild about their baked goods.

Each day my collect of food memories grew and I posted them in my studio space to influence the formal elements of dishware, such as color, size and shape that psychologically influence the way in which food is perceived.

A former orchard, Guldegargaard is celebrating its Twentieth Anniversary this year. The land surrounding the residency is a vast municipal park and often town’s people walking by peak their heads in the studio to see what’s being made. The town of Skaelskor is a quaint seaside town in the Slagelse municipality on the Danish island of Zealand. The town has a population of 6,532. And is home to one of Denmark's largest breweries, the Harboe Brewery. Some days the wind would shift and the whole town smelled like brewing hops.


Spence, Charles, and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman. "Chapter 4: Plating and Plateware: On the Multisensory Presentation of Food." The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2014. N. pag. Print.