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In His Image? 

Art Review

In His image?

EXHIBIT: "Handed Down: A Tradition Sustained," works by Hideo Okino and 11 local potters influenced by him. Living/ Learning Center Gallery, UVM, Burlington. Through March 4.

ARTWORK:Ceramic vessels by Hideo Okino

The "tradition" referred to in the exhibit "Handed Down: A Tradition Sustained" is one of dedication to ceramics. All 11 Vermont potters featured in the show worked under the tutelage of master ceramist Hideo Okino in the 1970s, but they've refined their own creative works, and paths. The stylistic diversity represented in the show -- and the fact that several of Okino's former students have established successful careers in the arts -- speak well of his skills as a teacher.

Okino is now in his early sixties and lives in Hawaii, but 35 years ago he became the first full-time ceramics instructor at UVM. He stayed for 14 years. The artists' statements at the exhibition document those early clay days at the university. The small department began in the "UVM Pot Shop," cramped basement quarters in the building behind Ira Allen Chapel. Okino and his students later moved to Williams Hall, where the art department remains today. Among those early students was Joan Watson, who curated this exhibition. She's been in charge of the ceramics co-op at the Living/ Learning Center since 1977.

It's remarkable that many of Okino's students stayed in touch with each other, and continue to express the depth of his influence. Tim McCosker of Thetford states that Okino "gave me an appreciation of the natural world as a source of inspiration."

McCosker is presenting wall-mounted tiles here. One piece, dating from his studies with Okino, is composed of three rectangular tiles; a horizontal swath of glaze in earthy colors spans, and unifies, all three. The glaze is like an island on the textural beige surface. A contemporary piece comprising nine tiles hung together demonstrates McCosker's continued affinity for natural form as well as evolution. He takes line and negative space into account as formal elements in the newer work.

Bristol artist Robert Compton wrote that Okino got students to "contemplate what the work was about" in a manner different than that of full-time production potters. Compton's monochromatic vessels in the Living/Learning show are both decorative and functional. His platter has a wonderful swirled pattern etched into the glaze.

Particularly energetic brushwork can be found in works by Watson and fellow Burlington ceramicist Jane Kramer. Watson has hung three platters that have an Abstract Expressionist bias portrayed in olive green, blues and gray. Kramer produced a low-fired, purely sculptural piece that stands like a screen about 20 inches high. Its glossy surface covers painterly passages of sienna, indigo and grays.

Not all the potters in the exhibition were officially Okino students. According to Emily Rossheim's statement, he allowed "unregistered students to use the facilities in exchange for a commitment to help maintain and run the shop." As such, Rossheim didn't receive direct instruction from Okino, but benefited from the "clay culture" of his studio. Her vessels here seem too delicate to be functional; one large bowl has a fiery red interior and turquoise exterior, with rows of rhythmic dashes over its shell-like surface.

Works by Okino have a prominent place in the exhibition, and they are testaments to his creativity. Organic forms abound, and parts of their surfaces are left unglazed. One tall, vertical piece seems like a Miro form sprung to life. Its surface has been actively worked, and unconventional foreign matter seems to have been tossed onto it before firing.

Other forms are more traditional, perhaps even functional. All of them demonstrate that Okido definitely knew what each piece "was about."

Hideo Okino worked under Toshiko Takaezu, a Japanese-American sculptor who is now recognized as one of the leading figures in 20th-century ceramics. In turn, Takaezu's mentor in graduate school during the 1950s was Maija Grotell (1904-1991), another of the greats. If the Living/Learning Gallery exhibit is any indication, that distinguished lineage is continuing.

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About The Author

Marc Awodey

Marc Awodey

Painter, poet, writer, musician, guerilla publisher and numismatist Marc Awodey, 1960-2012, was the Seven Days arts critic for more than a decade before his death at age 51. We all miss him.


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