Watkins Gallery: Profile on McKnight Ceramics Exhibit


Morgan Reddekopp

The McKnight Ceramics Exhibition was organized by the Northern Clay Center and is currently taking place in Watkins Hall Jan. 14- Feb. 5. An additional artist talk will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 23 in Watkins Hall.

Ren Gennerman, Features Editor

From Jan 14-Feb 5, the Watkins Gallery is hosting the annual McKnight Ceramics Exhibition, featuring the work of several artists.

Winona State University has hosted the traveling McKnight Ceramics Exhibition for over 10 years. This program was brought to Winona State by a former professor of ceramics in order to support the art program and students studying art.

Sponsored by the McKnight Foundation, the McKnight Ceramics Exhibition elects four different international artists every year for a three-month residency in the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. In addition, the foundation chooses two artists from Minnesota to receive a grant of $25,000 to make work in the exhibition.

Because the recipients of the grants and residencies are different from year-to-year, the work in the gallery is always different. Roger Boulay, the gallery and art collection coordinator at Winona State, remarks how different each year’s display can be.

“This is a great thing for Winona State because the work is different every year,” Boulay said. “It is always very high-quality and there’s a diverse set of interests and people.”

While many people may think of ceramics as mostly being painted bowls or cups, the exhibition this year is mostly comprised of nonfunctional ceramics. More along the lines of fine art, this year’s exhibit features work that explores line and shape, as well as those that explore and reference the human body. Boulay also emphasized the collection’s variety of material, scale and colors.

“It’s only been here for a few days so far, but we have already seen many people come through to look at the art,” Boulay said. “It can really provide a nice change of pace, especially because it provides a more contemplative space on a busy campus, and we already know lots of students on campus appreciate ceramics.”

There are about 20 art majors and 30 art education majors who take a ceramics course at some point, but the majority of student interest in the field comes from extracurricular activities.

Mud club, a ceramic-making club, has more than 100 students in its membership and many of them have already visited the exhibit.

Sarah Bontrager, a studio art major, is one of the people who has already seen the gallery collection.

“As a student, the McKnight show is always one of my favorite shows every year,” Bontrager said. “I enjoy the diversity of work that is created by the different artists, whether it is sculptural, tiles or vessels. Ceramics is such a versatile medium in art and I think this show displays that beautifully.”

Boulay agreed with Bontrager, especially because as art students learn more about their field, having work so close [to the students] is an advantage.

“Students get to see what is going on in the world of ceramics,” Boulay said. “It’s a great opportunity, especially because our gallery is on campus.”