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Tales and Teapots: MFA Thesis Exhibit

By J. Bowers | Posted 12/6/2006

Thematically, sculptor Amy Weaver and illustrator Stephanie Smith are a natural pairing--Weaver creates fanciful, pastel-hued teapot sculptures that would look right at home on the Mad Hatter's sideboard, while Smith draws scenes from Aesop's Fables, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and other tales exploring animals or animal transformation. Though wildly different in style, both artists' work implicitly references childhood, imagination, and dreams.

Weaver's "teapots" look rather like sumptuously frosted, surreal birthday cakes. Constructed out of slab-built earthenware and cloaked in velvet underglaze--see, they even sound delicious, somehow--the sculptures find the artist experimenting with the interplay of curvature and line. Superfluous handles, spouts, faux spouts, and other embellishments jut out from basic teapot forms. Each piece is, mysteriously, given a human name and a number--"Bertha 388," "E.J. 174"--and painted in candylike shades of teal, pink, and white. Up close, the influence of architecture is evident in the carefully fitted joints and precisely cut corners. There's also an interesting sensual interplay between the soft glow of Weaver's color palette and the cold, unyielding nature of dry clay. Standout piece "Jonas 174" is an intriguingly off-kilter stack of angular mint green, teal, and brown, displayed to advantage on a tall pedestal.

On the walls, Smith's giclée prints display a charming command of line and composition, particularly in the diptych "The Country Mouse" and "The Town Mouse." The country mouse cowers in a strawberry bed while the town mouse stands atop a wedge of cheese, creating a diagonal line of symmetry that unites the work.

Unabashedly realistic in style, even when portraying obscure and bizarre scenes like "The Monkey and the Dolphin" or the man-into-stag myth "Acteon and Diana," Smith consistently portrays turning points in her chosen tales, moments right before or after her characters meet with transformation or trauma. This sense of present action, paired with the harsh sense of justice already present in Ovid and Aesop, gives some of the pieces a darker edge. That monkey and dolphin? According to the accompanying label text, they have a falling out, and the ape ends up at the bottom of the sea. But in Smith's illustration, they look almost happy--the monkey dangling off the dolphin's dorsal fin. There's the pleasant sense of a page yet to be turned, a horror around the corner.

That said, Smith's shadows also manifest as a series of four prints that don't specifically suggest any well-known tale and mostly feature a small dragon. "An Appointment Kept" shows the animal rampant atop a gravestone--a particularly Dungeons and Dragons-esque move. Though technically excellent, Smith's illustrations don't shine without a solid, easily told narrative to ground the action. She deals in moments and snapshots, not the kind of extensive imagery necessary to convey an entire tale in one panel, and as a result these four pieces seem out of place here. Despite Smith's penchant for the medieval, this is friendly, accessible art.

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