The Secret Life of Objects

MARCH 5 – APRIL 18, 2021
Main Gallery
Curated by Pattie Chalmers and Jill Foote-Hutton

In this exhibition, our curators bring together artists who imagine the life of a ceramic object beyond the pedestal through drawing, collage, and film. The Secret Life of Objects will share the most compelling clay work crossing material boundaries and will draw in new audiences to engage in the role of voyeuristic observer.

The life of an object explored within the context of its engagement with the literal or imagined world proves just as bewitching as the consideration of the private story of an object’s gestation. The representational object, presented in a frozen moment, will be re-presented through various narrative devices—a non-traditional approach to interrupt our process of perception.

Artists in this exhibition include: Natalia Arbelaez, Stephen Bird, Arthur Gonzalez, Valerie Ling, Leslie Macklin, and Anu-Laura Tuttelberg.

About the Artists

Natalia Arbelaez approaches her work as a story teller through her multiple lenses of self, as a “Mestizo, Colombian, and American hybrid.” Through craft, and thoroughly-researched historical evolution of material, she enlivens and keeps relevant the critical conversations surrounding the importance of culture, communities, and tradition. Arbelaez earned her BFA at Florida International University, Miami, in 2011 and her MFA from The Ohio State University, Columbus, in 2015. She is a Co-Founder of The Color Network and is currently an adjunct professor at Ceramic Advanced Studio and Clay Studio at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston.

Stephen Bird utilizes his formal training as a painter to bring narrative to life within his ceramic sculptural works. He explores the darkly human themes of “cruelty, war, and unnatural affections” through subtle portrayal in the context of old myths and comforting English pottery visual references. The cloaked, mutinous works employ scale, color, form, and “random inclusions” to seduce viewers into a deeper interaction. Bird earned his BA in Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, Scotland in 1987, his Post Graduate at Cyprus College of Art, Lemba, Paphos, in 1988, and a Higher National Certificate in Ceramics at Angus College of Further Education, Dundee, Scotland in 1998.

Arthur Gonzalez investigates and encourages consideration of the dynamic relationship between world events and personal experiences. The conscious result is uneasy and coarse while simultaneously familiar and validating. His sculptures, while inanimate, pulse with emotion and understanding that portends imminently coming to life. Gonzalez earned his BA (1977) and MA (1979) from California State University, Sacramento and his MFA at University of California, Davis (1981). His extensive career in ceramics encompasses exhibitions, both national and international, permanent collections, residencies, awards, and lectures. He is currently a full, tenured, professor at California College of the Arts, Oakland.

Valerie Ling explores the divide between how reality is viewed and experienced through a child’s perception and the evolution of experience as one moves into adulthood. That journey sees the ebb of imagination and  innocence  and the introduction of pragmatism and societal influence. Her work projects the realism of adult issues through a lens of pure and lighthearted childlike insight. Ling earned her BFA at New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 2015.

Leslie Macklin roots her work in the role of place in the human experience. The definition of place, and the impact of place on our identity, are connected to deeper historical roles of landscapes and surroundings. Her inclusion of hand-dug clay bodies imbues a literal component of origin and is formed to recall impressions and sensations of specific locations. Macklin earned her BFA at Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri in 2009 and her MFA from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2014. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Adams State University, Alamosa, Colorado.

Anu-Laura Tuttelberg brings her porcelain sculptures to life as characters in her stop-motion films. Her roles as filmmaker and artist align to bring the visual language necessary to interpret the often-unbearable heft of events and offer guidance and buoyancy. Rather than view the sculpture or finished film as objectives, they are components in the larger experience of art making within a greater community that contributes to, and experiences, the process. Tuttleberg earned a BA (2009) and MA (2013) at Estonian Academy of Art, Tallinn.

Virtual Tour & Videos

View all five videos from the exhibition in our YouTube playlist below:


Panel Discussion: Storytelling for Artists and Educators
Thursday, March 11, 6 pm CT

We approach a bowl as a familiar object, and understand a bowl based on its intended use of delivering bounty, holding sustenance, or being an object over which humans engage in dialogue. The Secret Life of Objects takes this storytelling concept a step further to explore the longer narrative of a maker’s imagination. This remote discussion panel featuring Natalia Arbelaez, Arthur Gonzalez, and Valerie Ling, led by Jill Foote-Hutton will focus on individual approaches to narrative and storytelling within and around ceramic objects. Engage with methods that can aid in the evolution of developing stories within the objects you create. A lesson plan will be produced as a byproduct of this workshop for educators to employ in their remote or hybrid classrooms.

Artist Talk: Valerie Ling
Tuesday March 16, 6 pm CT

Join Valerie Ling for an artist talk to discover more about the world her objects live in and how this world, that she also invites viewers into, is shaped by stylization and recurring themes.

Artist Talk: Stephen Bird
Tuesday, March 23, 6 pm CT

Join Stephen Bird as he presents an image lecture on the development of his ceramic practice, including details about his 2010 digital stop-frame animation project and how his work has been shaped and influenced by this project.