Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Exhibit Opening

We opened Potters of the Gathering: Clay Work in Early Utah on Saturday, May 2.  I am very grateful for all the help and support of everyone on the team at the Iron Mission State Park. We finished the last bits of exhibit preparation that morning, and my wife Sarah even joined the work team, despite the fact that she was on vacation from her job at the Chipstone Foundation and Milwaukee Art Museum. Sarah helped polish the acrylic boxes that cover the vitrines and then helped Ryan aim lights in the gallery.  

I will post more quality photos of the exhibit as I get them.  I was pretty busy Saturday night talking with visitors, so I didn't take any pictures myself.  

We designed three main areas for the exhibit. The first area has the feel of a natural history museum.  This area includes wall panels with text, photos and a touch-screen DVD, as well as cases of archaeological artifacts and an ambient audio program.  This section of the exhibit explains the process of pottery manufacture, with emphasis on the English factory experience.  It also presents the archaeological research into Utah's clay industries.

This case, as one example, is full of mold fragments from the Deseret Pottery site in Salt Lake City.  Utah State Parks staff and groups of student volunteers did archaeological salvage at the site in 1977.
We built the second area of the exhibit in the style of an art museum.  This section includes several cases that gather together examples of pottery that the maker stamped or signed.  This is the largest collection of signed and identified pieces ever exhibited.  In addition, this area also includes a large table display, pictured below, where a number of unsigned objects sit together.  We hope that this display will encourage people to consider the aesthetic and technical variety in these objects and the similar diversity in the artisanal community that manufactured them.
The picture below shows the Eardley vitrine, which contains many of the Bedson Eardley and Deseret Pottery pieces in the show. In the background are panels that explore the push forces that encouraged potters to leave England for Utah.
Our third area is in the style of a history museum.  We explain the potters' quality of life in this area, including health issues, business practices, and the social construction of identity.  The displays, which include two pioneer period rooms, a peddling wagon, and a black-box theater, interpret objects using text panels and photographs and two separate audio programs.

Some local media covered our opening:

I do hope lots of visitors will come to see the show while it is open at the Iron Mission State Park Museum.  We have had some inquiries about hosting the show in other cities around Utah, but there is no guarantee the show will travel.  The exhibit includes about 300 objects, most of which have never been exhibited before.  It is certainly the largest collection of nineteenth century pottery ever gathered together.  Besides all the objects, there are two audio programs, an ambient audio atmosphere, a touch-screen DVD with video segments, and dozens of historic and modern photographs.

After our opening, my wife and I took the remaining two days of her vacation time to do some camping and hiking in the desert's spring beauty.  The wild plants are in bloom here, the days are warm, and the Coal Creek has swollen with snow melt runoff.  My thoughts are increasingly turning to the fieldwork at the Davenport Pottery site.  I'll post more exhibit pictures as soon as I get them, but will be write more soon about the field school and excavations!  The students are on the road from MTU and should arrive in a day or two.

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