When I was studying Sculpture at PNCA, in about 1996, I inherited my grandmother’s ceramics shop. I had not known her well. What I remember about her is that she had a handkerchief full of bling that she kept in her bra so that she could change the rings she wore on every finger throughout the day. When she did so, she would sing “diamonds are a girls best friend”. She was a large woman with an even larger personality. I had only met her a few times, but it appeared that I was showing aptitude of some sort and I thank Grandpa John for thinking of me to accept her supplies. Grandpa John had also given me my first commission a few years earlier: A really…hideous…figure sculpture which my mom has now. (Mom, please take that thing off the mantle. I’m begging you. Those breasts are like chameleon eyeballs searching for predators.)
I was sharing a 1 bedroom apartment at the time (I had the boarded up dining room) so, as the boxes began to arrive, I sorted, donated and place things into a storage unit. I donated glazes, molds and decals to my school. They were an ironic time capsule or cherubs and florals that would surely be gleefully twisted by fine art students. For myself, I kept Vera’s brushes, clay tools, sketchbook, vintage rhinestones and glitter and…the kiln, which had arrived in 3 huge boxes. It has moved around with me for these past 19 years. Vera’s kiln (circa 1972) has lived again for the past three years in my studio and it’s been a good little work horse. The only problem was that I was concurrently being spoiled by having a new digital kiln to use at the University where I was teaching. The differences in quality could not be ignored. I have finally replaced ol’ “Vera” with “Vera II”. Feel free to congratulate me. I also got a cell phone and a 21st Century car this year.
The changing of the kiln is influencing the work I’m making. My work has always revolved around family and the individual. My last body of sculptures featured accumulations of various materials I had collected (or inherited) placed on the blank canvas of a single figure. This is “Gift”, plaster over armature, and Vera’s doilies. It’s about 46″ high.
It may seem like I am being irreverent with my heirlooms but I don’t see it that way. Making art from this material is my highest expression of respect. It’s not like when I cut up Mom’s wedding dress for the crinoline so that I could dress up like Madonna…
Below is a detail of a piece called “Vera”. It’s the hemline and feet of the figure. I’m not very happy with the figure or the photos so this is all I’m going to show of it. Ceramic with chandelier crystals, rhinestones, paint and resin. It’s about 23″ high.
You can see the rest of this body of work at www.vickilynnwilson.net
I find that my new functional work is inspired by the same kinds of textures that I associate with family, inheritance and memory. At very least, a piece like this is damn near channeling Vera:
I have a really weird relationship with the memory of my grandmother. She was not known for her kindness, especially to my mother. I think most people look for connections and belonging and I have always longed for more heritage and feeling like I was connected to my lineage. Vera was an unlikely place for me to find that. I can’t deny my love of glitter, rhinestones and, indeed, real gemstones. Sparkle is my other middle name. I have a flair for the dramatic and a temper, though not so much as Vera. I have wound up in the same career and what is really trippy, is the newspaper article my mom gave me a year ago ( as I contemplated a leap to the full time studio and from the year I was born, no less). It’s about her teaching! It described her as a “mean teacher” who gets results because she doesn’t put up with sloppy, crude work. I laugh to myself every time I read that line. (Former students of mine, hollah!) She also defends the use of molds in ceramics. I. LOVE. MOLDS. I make most of my own molds and I use them differently than her, but that’s a fairly specific connection. So I will leave you with this little gem from the December 29th, 1974 edition of the TODAY newspaper. The original can be found on the glaze cabinet door in my studio: