HCCC's Craft Garden Turned Storybook Setting with Whimsical Creations

Sculptures by Anne Steacy from the "Ceramics in the Environment" exhibit in the Craft Garden at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.
Sculptures by Anne Steacy from the "Ceramics in the Environment" exhibit in the Craft Garden at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.
Photo by Jeff Forster

A storybook garden with whimsical creations can be found in the Craft Garden of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, courtesy of students in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Glassell School of Art. The Ceramics in the Environment exhibit is the result of a two semester course, “Special Topics: Ceramics in the Environment,” that focused on how sculpture can change depending on its environment (natural or manmade), and the site-specific challenges of various settings.

Anne Steacy’s miniature houses look as if they’ve been aged and weathered over time, but the rusty patina is all part of her meticulous painting and attention to detail. Mounted on wooden stands and at staggered heights, this mini village tucked away in the garden could easily be inhabited by small woodland faeries.

Looking a bit like olives stuffed with pimientos, Polly Ruhlman-Epps’s small ceramic orbs are actually pendulous and installed vertically on a tree in small circular patterns, similar to the growth of mushrooms. They take on a life of their own and are believable as a newly discovered species of plant.

Look closely under the plant cover, and nestled here and there you’ll find small surprises of colorful objects buried in the ground. In hues of orange, turquoise and lemon yellow, these pops of color by Kim Millspaugh are a pleasant contrast to the brown of the twigs, mulch and dirt.

Sculpture by Polly Ruhlman (left) and Loes Berendschot (right) from the "Ceramics in the Environment" exhibit in the Craft Garden at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.
Sculpture by Polly Ruhlman (left) and Loes Berendschot (right) from the "Ceramics in the Environment" exhibit in the Craft Garden at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.
Photo by Jeff Forster

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There’s a story behind Loes Berendschot’s life-sized fantastical sculpture: from the chain around the neck leading to a lock at its enormous feet, this genderless creature with flower-patterned shirt has a beaked open gourd where its head should be. Has it escaped? Is it still somebody’s prisoner? The piece, captive in the rhubarb patch, is both unsettling and fascinating.

In the more open part of the garden, as if dried by the sun, are Mary Aldrich’s amorphous forms of clay, looking very much a part of the natural world in muted grays and tans.

The tall piece by Michelle Matthews reaches up to the sky, at first seeming like a hollow tree trunk ripped opened to the elements, ending with a bent twisting at the top. Her delicate use of color and texture yields a very realistic element to this graceful piece.

Slender tall plants in burnt orange with faded purple blooms by Nell Gottlieb offer a nice hint of color in the garden, while Renee LeBlanc’s stacked minaret totems suggest the magic and mystique of distant lands. Wouter Van Der Tol’s ceramics dangle from macramé supports in harmonious hues of black and yellow, dipped in a base of red.

The Glassell course was a collaborative effort by Jeff Forster, ceramics chair at the MFAH Glassell School of Art and Elizabeth Kozlowski, HCCC curator; HCCC volunteer Marion Sullivan provided navigational support for the installation of the exhibit.

Ceramics in the Environment continues through August 29, at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft’s Craft Garden, 4848 Main Street, open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., 713-529-4848, crafthouston.org.


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