Martin displays ceramic art in Blackberry Farm Art Gallery

Maryville College’s artist-in-residence program provides artists at MC the resources to create and discuss their works.

This year, Polly Ann Martin, a ceramist and professor at MC, was chosen to be MC’s artist-in-residence. Martin’s exhibition was displayed throughout April in the Blackberry Farm Art Gallery in the Clayton Center for the Arts.

“It’s a chance for a collective institution to expose the community to different ways of working, different ways of perceiving expression,” Martin said.

According to Martin, being chosen for the artist-in-residency is a great opportunity to push oneself to new heights of learning.

“It’s a fulfilling experience,” she said. “As an artist, you may come away with a difference understanding of artistic questions that you had previous asked yourself.”

Martin is attracted to strong forms and favors pitchers with strong volume. The pieces in her collection also featured finite brushwork, which is reminiscent of Native American pieces and reflects the grid-like quality with which Martin was interesting in experimenting.     “It was a chance to revisit something,” Martin said. “I did not do brushwork like this before. I wanted to challenge myself to get to another phase of my own learning curve.”

Martin also said that the brushwork was directly influenced by her work in needlepoint and crochet.

Martin explained that the amount of artwork shown in the exhibition does not even begin to reflect the number of pieces she created in anticipation of the show.

“When asked to execute this body of work, I had enough pieces in my studio to where I could have just gone to my studio and set up a show,” she said. “That is not how I work or would ever want to work.”

After being contacted to create the exhibition, Martin spent a full year crafting the pieces for the show, finishing the last one the weekend before it opened.

According to Martin, the ability to work consistently in a studio is key to whether an artist will be successful in executing his or her creative ideas.

“It’s so important that you always have an active studio. It’s so crucial. If you don’t have a place to create, you’re up a creek.”

On Monday, April 23rd, Martin presented a lecture on her life and influences. The event was held in the Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall. Martin discussed how spending her childhood in culturally rich Chicago greatly influenced her work. Martin began working extensively with clay in high school, where she took art classes.

“I was exposed to clay for the very first time in my high school,” she said. “It was an amazing material to be exposed to. Not too many high schools have clay as part of their curriculum, and I understood that quite clearly. I felt it was a really fortunate opportunity to be exposed to such a versatile material.”     Martin believes that being raised by parents who worked with their hands directly influenced her decision to become an artist, specifically a ceramist.

“There are primary experiences that hopefully all of us have,” Martin said. “One of the clear messages I got when I was a kid was the beauty that could be made by the virtue of your hands. There truly was an amazing beauty that came to life every day. I only hoped as a kid that I could make that kind of magic happen.”

Martin found herself particularly drawn to the functionality of clay and its ability to blend in everyday life.

“For me, clay was a very plastic material,” she said. “It was malleable and responsive to the touch and really reflected a sense of time.”

While she had worked with other materials, it soon became apparent to Martin that clay was going to take the lead.

Martin continued her education by earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Kansas City Art Institute and a master’s in the same field from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Martin, along with her artistic partner and future husband, pursued teaching experiences in places all across the United States, including the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Worchester Center for Crafts.

When her husband got a job working in the art department at University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Martin began hearing good things about Maryville College.

Martin believes that there is something special about the way Maryville students see the world and the artistic experience.

“[MC students] happen to be students that really are interested in figuring out their place in the world,” she said. “That doesn’t happen all over the world.”

Martin feels fortunate to be able to raise her family of two children while having an active studio life and teaching at Maryville College.

“I love teaching, I love exposing people to new ideas and getting them to a point where they own who there are,” she said.

“The point is getting them comfortable in their own skin.”


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