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Release: June 26, 2002

UI Museum of Art features ceramics by Gerry Eskin through July 28

Photos: left - Spirit House 1999, right - Wall Platter 1998

“Gerry Eskin: Recent Ceramics,” featuring 27 new works by the well known Iowa City potter and former University of Iowa faculty member, is on display in the UI Museum of Art through July 28.

Eskin holds a doctorate in economics, and he taught marketing at the UI 1972-82, but his development as an artist pre-dated his academic and business career. Growing up in Washington, D.C., he was drawn to photography, and he studied photojournalism in college.

He encountered clay, by chance, in the 1960s, at a Minneapolis “Love-In” that included hands-on workshops with a variety of artists. Eskin set up a booth to teach basic photography, and the next booth over specialized in clay. “I took his course and he took mine,” Eskin explains. “Ever since, I’ve done clay and he’s done photography.”

For the last two decades Eskin and his wife, Sandie, have also been ceramics collectors, building a collection of works from Asian, African and Native American traditions. “My original interest was in finding the origins of pieces I was already making,” Eskin says. “Today the historical references in my work are more direct. I am struck by the artistic skills and technical innovations of ancient ceramists; I attempt to pay homage to them and, at the same time, to integrate what I have learned from the past in my new work.”

One of these historical inspirations is the tradition of ossuaries found in the Jordanian desert and dating to the Chalcolithic period. These ancient works are echoed in Eskin’s “spirit houses” and “shaman urns.”

David Revere McFadden, chief curator of the American Craft Museum, wrote of the “spirit houses,” “Eskin’s modern interpretation of the form includes the transformation of the front facade of the building into a humanoid face. Daubs of clay create the eyes, and an angled slab stands for the nose. Drama is created, however, by the large gaping mouths at the front -- some open, others closed with clay slabs held by wooden dowels -- into which the skeletal remains of the departed would be inserted. With their fierce, and yet childlike faces, these houses of time and memory are defensive and protective while being dignified and aloof.”

McFadden describes how Eskin’s series of “shaman urns,” is related: “Like their ‘spirit house’ brothers and sisters, these urns are anthropomorphized to an even greater degree. These funerary urns constructed as three-dimensional full figures, seated on a bench or stool, with solidly planted feet and buttressed arms, are almost Madonna-like -- regal, imposing, and self-assured. The development of these forms is yet another indication of Eskin’s ongoing investigation into ancient ceremonial ceramics.”

The UI Museum of Art exhibition also includes massive wall and floor platters, which are often decorated with calligraphic imagery or geometric patterns. In some cases, several platters share imagery to become a multi-part installation.

For information on the UI Museum of Art, visit < http://www.uiowa.edu/uima > on the World Wide Web. Information is available on UI arts events at < http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa >.

The UI Museum of Art, located on North Riverside Drive in Iowa City, is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and noon to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Admission is free. Public metered parking is available in UI parking lots west and north of the museum.