1858 Prize Finalist: Michelle Erickson
A resident of Virginia, ceramic artist Michelle Erickson has over twenty years of experience crafting 17th- and 18th-century reproduction pottery as well as creating contemporary ceramics that foster discussion on current social issues.
Erickson’s fascination with ceramic history is due to her exposure to archeological ceramics within the Colonial heritage and history prevalent in Virginia. She has reproduced ceramics for collections and organizations such as Colonial Williamsburg, the National Park Service, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Erickson studies fragments of pottery found in early colonial excavations with the goal of learning more about the civilizations that used them and what parallels they have to the present. The techniques used by early craftsmen also shape Erickson’s modern working style when creating both reproductions and her own work.
A recent work of Erickson’s is Ormolu Guns, life size casts of AR-15 air guns. These two pieces are cast in porcelain and native Virginian earthenware and fired in Colonial Williamsburg’s 18th century-style wood fired brick kiln. These replicas of the deadly weapon mimic one of the most popular air gun forms in Chinese export production. The ceramic weapons are meant to be viewed as future relics and to draw a parallel to 17th century Chinese porcelain and stoneware that was so heavily imported and collected. Ormolu Guns explores the complexity of the issue of gun control in the 21st century by connecting past and future relics in a way that encourages dialogue in the present.
Another of Erickson’s pieces is a chamber pot which she created for the HBO series John Adams. Republican Potty is a replica of an 18th-century creamware vessel which was excavated at Monticello. Erickson explains that chamber pots were often used to make political statements by creative artists whose humor can still be appreciated today.
Erickson explores the 18th-century fascination with fossils by paralleling the 21st century’s dependence on fossil fuels in Fossil Teapot. The piece emulates an 18th-century glazed enamel teapot which Erickson has modernized with abstract fossil patterns and has replaced the teapot spout with a gas pump handle. Fossil scallops and barnacles as well as casts of the artist’s own teeth, create a statement on the fossil fuel problem of the present.
Examples of Erickson’s contemporary work can be found at the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Yale University Museum. She has consulted on and designed ceramics for several major motion pictures such as The Patriot and The New World. Her work utilizes history to speculate about the future and connect us to civilizations that have come before us.
—Amanda Breen, Membership Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art
This is one of six posts covering the 2016 finalists for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art. The winner will be announced on August 15, 2016.
Top image: Republican Potty, by Michelle Erickson; creamware, wheel thrown with enamel and transfer printed decoration; 7 inches high; Courtesy of the artist