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 At the LSU Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge, there is a long room dedicated to outdated machinery, vehicles, tools, and decorative trinkets from the 1700s and1800s.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

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