Grad students mix art with pottery business

May 12, 2010

by Patricia Malek

The Bellocq Gallery in the Visual Arts Center now has hardwood floors, display shelves custom-made from local sawmill rejects and handmade ceramic pottery, all installed this weekend by two graduate students as part of their thesis presentations.

Determined to prove an artist can also be a successful businessperson with the right tools, Dustin McGilvray and Jacob Cotton are presenting an art exhibit in a storefront designed by Stephanie Carwile, interior design program chair.

“It’s more of an entrepreneurial approach to art than putting together a gallery space,” said McGilvray. “This is actually a three-dimensional model for an actual storefront.”

McGilvray, a graduate studio art student, is a ceramics artist. He has designed and built his own soda kiln, which is now part of the art annex off of Tech Farm Road, and enjoys using it to create unique pottery pieces in earth tones and styles reminiscent of American pottery from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“My thesis is based on the craft tradition of pottery and how it fits into modern society today,” McGilvray said. “What I have approached it with is the fact that, even though this is a time-honored practice, we potters have to learn how to survive. Taking our craft to the consumer market allows us a better opportunity than expecting everybody to come find us.”

Cotton is a communications design graduate student who, like McGilvray, is presenting his thesis this week. Cotton’s tools are what McGilvray hopes to use in his transition from artist to businessperson.

“I handled all of the branding, all of the packaging and the identity,” Cotton said. “It’s like Dustin was my client, and as a designer it was my job to basically do what the client wants but then also educate them about wrong decisions they may make. In this process, it was kind of a team effort.”

McGilvray said he stumbled upon the Tech art program after dropping out of an Arizona graduate program. A friend from Minden invited him to come stay with him until he chose his next direction and encouraged him to check out Tech’s studio art program while he was here. McGilvray said he has found tremendous encouragement and support from the moment he arrived and said he would have a lot of people to thank once the exhibit was finished.

The rustic shelves and counter designed by Carwile look like they might have appeared on the set of a Clint Eastwood western.
With the weathered sides of lumber originally thrown aside at a local sawmill showing, the fixtures reflect the earthiness McGilvray said he enjoys presenting in his work.

The unique markings made on the neutral-colored glazes of McGilvray’s various ceramic containers are from soda being sprayed into the kiln after it reaches a certain temperature. The rustic appearance of the pottery is reflected in the recycled lumber on which the works are displayed.

“Every time I put one in [the kiln], I have a theory about how it’s going to come out based on previous results, but getting the same one every time never happens,” McGilvray said. “Every one will be unique, a record of what’s going on in the kiln.”

McGilvray’s ceramics will be on display at the Bellocq Gallery all month. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is open to the public, and a cash register is plugged in and warmed up, just in case.