DETROIT — One does not, perhaps, consider ceramic objects to be immediately gendered, possess sexuality, or be particularly political. But pottery is one of the oldest practices among humans, and is so rooted in fundamental domestic and utilitarian concerns that there is literally no known human society that has not made vessels of some kind. This was something curator Anders Ruhwald, who has served as artist-in-residence and head of the Ceramics Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art since 2008, held very firmly in mind as he assembled contributors for This is the Living Vessel: person. This is what matters. This is our universe., a group show at Pewabic Pottery — an active pottery studio, showroom, and gallery space, as well as one of Detroit’s oldest businesses — which presents seven artists who express perspectives outside the white/male/heteronormative art world structure, using ceramics as a medium. The show borrows its title from a snippet of text lifted from the introduction to Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and Person by M.C. Richards — a potter, poet, and essayist who taught at the Black Mountain College in the 1940s — and alludes to the most unifying truth of all: that every person is a vessel for a unique expression of life.
The show is part of a two-way exchange between Pewabic and the Cranbrook Art Museum, which is also showing Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes: The Gerald W. McNeely Collection of Pewabic Pottery, with more than 100 examples of Pewabic pottery (the studio has always produced vessels, but is perhaps best known for its distinctive, jewel-toned array of glazes, which grace many a historic Detroit interior, in tile form) from a recently donated private collection, including works by Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton. Cranbrook’s ceramic studio was also founded by a woman, Maija Grotell, sometimes called “the mother of American ceramics,” and the Cranbrook Art Museum hosted a lecture dissecting the work of these two influential studio heads, as well as that of contemporary potter and Living Vessel contributor, Roberto Lugo.