Thesis exhibit showcases clay sculptures

Elayne Smith

Virginia Eckinger, a master’s student studying sculpting, explores her personal narrative through literal translations matched with fantasy in her thesis exhibit, How Things Are, How Things Were.

Clay sculptures of human bodies with animal heads will be strategically placed around the Sella-Granata gallery, one even bent over a wall, until Thursday. Eckinger said she chose the animal depending on the meaning people associate with it. One of her sculptures is a body cut in two with a lamb’s head, showing the idea of being pulled in two directions. The artist chose the lamb because of its complacent image., she said.

“A lot of the decisions are based on the way the animal is perceived by humans,” Eckinger said. “If you have a face, people are going to look at it, and they’re going to try to recognize the face of the artist or somebody they know. I think this creates a little bit of anonymity in it, so that you’re not relating it to an individual but it becomes a symbol for the figure as an object itself.”

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Her greatest challenge was the size of the sculptures, as she said working with such a large size was physically difficult. Along with her sculptures, Eckinger used watercolor, ink and gouache drawings to line the wall of the exhibit. The drawings, she said, were meant to convey the emotions of the event her sculptures depict.

“I think of the figures as the more literal translation of the event, and the drawings are more of the intangible degree of certification of it,” she said. “The figures are the event, and the drawings are the recollection of the event.”

Getting to this thesis exhibit has been a three-year process. After the end of the first year in the MFA process, artists have to go through a candidacy review with faculty. Once they pass it, they create a thesis committee that evaluates them and helps them create their Master of Art Show. This show is the exam to move on with the degree. During their last year, they work with the committee to create their thesis exhibit.

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Craig Wedderspoon, associate professor of art with sculptures, is the head of Eckinger’s thesis committee. He said he has seen the development of her exhibit all the way through and said he has carried many of the materials around for her because of the sculptures’ size. He said she always puts a lot of thought into her work, and has grown throughout the years in her ability to articulate those thoughts.

“It’s very thoughtful work. It’s pretty intricate stuff with excellent levels of craftsmanship. It’s very mature,” he said. “She’s gotten a lot more brave with her work, and she’s gotten much better able to talk about the work. She’s always thought a lot about the work, but she’s a little more comfortable now talking about the issues she’s addressing, and I think she understands what she’s doing a lot more thoroughly than when she started.”

Eckinger is virtually self-taught in ceramics. Matt Mitros, assistant professor of art with ceramics, said Eckinger has some uncertainty with the material, which in turn gives her strength because she observes nuances other artists miss. He said her thoughtfulness and observations lends itself to art full of meaning.

“I think these sculptures can, if you allow them, can operate as conduits so that we can exercise some of our feelings, some of our fears, some of our emotional discomfort. We can project onto these sculptures and activate and allow ourselves to experience emotions that we usually suppress,” Mitros said. “I think with these sculptures, in some cases, they allow us to project onto them and imagine ourselves in our own way and in our own terms living out our own experiences through that. These sculptures unlock a lot of fear within the viewer if the viewer allows them to have that kind of experience.”

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