The Noyes Museum (Or: Anything you want – and I mean ANYthing - can be found on that stretch of Route 30.)
On a congenial spring morning last week, a friend and I meandered our way from the ‘burbs, via the lost-in-time-in-a-good-way White Horse Pike, to visit the Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville.
Sidebar: It’s my belief that anything you want – and I mean ANYthing - can be found on that stretch of Route 30.
After breakfast at a homey spot just down Route 9 from our destination, we arrived at the Noyes. The setting – circled by trees, nestled next to the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge and overlooking Lily Lake – is lovely enough to arouse your senses before you step through the door. Once inside, the experience continues. Bathed in natural light, the tri-level entry area offers access to the museum’s four galleries and a panoramic view of Lily Lake through the wall of windows at the far end.
I could ramble on about the splendor of the structure and surroundings, but the reason for THIS visit was to view a particular exhibition, so I’ll focus on that.
“Mish-Mash Strikes Back: Contemporary Clay Redefined”, on view through June 13, assembles a sparkling selection of works by twenty-one non-traditional ceramic artists from across the country.
The “Mish Mash” series was conceived in 2001 by clay artists and co-curators Matt Burton, Rick Crowley and Rick Parsons. Fresh out of grad school, the three wanted to put together an unconventional exhibition with other artists and friends. “As curators, we were looking for non-traditional, fresh and content-driven art,” Burton says. And, the name – “Mish Mash” – was a reflection of the artists and their work. “You couldn’t put us in a category,” he says, “and there weren’t any real guidelines. We were just looking for art that went beyond ceramic stereotypes.”
Following the first “Mish-Mash” show (2001) in Charlotte, North Carolina, the group staged exhibitions in Kansas City (2002), Indianapolis (2004), and Baltimore (2005). For “Strikes Back”, the curators invited mostly previous “Mish-Mash-ers”, as well as four new artists. Participants include: Emily Ward Bivens, Matt Burton, Doug Casebeer, Ray Chen, Rick Crowley, David East, Rain Harris, Katherine Johnson, Jerry Kaba, Leigh Taylor Mickelson, Peter Morgan, Jill Oberman, Helen Otterson, Rick Parsons, Kelly & Kyle Phelps, Amy Santoferraro, Todd Shanafelt, Keith Smith, Fred Spaulding and Skeff Thomas.
Like a prelude, next to the glass wall and just outside the exhibition gallery, is Fred Spaulding’s “Radio Flyer Bundle for the Noyes Museum, 2010”, a construction made of screen printed brick, steel bands, and a Radio Flyer wagon.
Inside the gallery, I was nearly bowled over by the creative energy in the room. The space is filled with such an array of color, form, texture, and finishes dimensions that I barely knew where to look.
Finally, my eyes found “Pulse” by Leigh Mickleson, a vivid, totem-pole-esque work of ceramic, glazes and steel, and then next focused on Skeff Thomas’ “Growth I”, a vibrant stoneware and porcelain creation.
Moving on, I found many pieces where the artist had capably blended process with wonder and whimsy, such as two engaging works by Amy Santoferraro; Helen Otterson’s “Succulent Flora”; and “Donorofic”, a playful and glossy grouping by Peter Morgan. Others, like the beautiful works by Jill Oberman and Katherine Johnson Seibert, and Ray Chen’s “Mother and Child”, manage to convey drama in a subtle and understated way. Keith Smith’s graceful “Dream Dancer” and the evocative “Dennis Osborne Outside of Haditha, 2008” by Kyle E. Phelps and Kelly E. Phelps, both allow the viewer a glimpse into the individual artist’s take on a realistic subject. Two particular works – “The Congressman or the Pot Calling the Kettle Black” by co-curator Matt Burton, and “Unbroken” by Emily Ward Bivens – utilize more than a touch of irony to make their statements. And Rick Crowley’s “3 Birds - 1 Stone, Aka Unemployment Solution”, an ample clay ashtray, takes utilitarian art to another level. In Crowley’s plan, similar vessels made by clay artists get placed at thousands of intersections across America, which as the title suggests, serves a 3-fold purpose: to reduce pollution, employ ceramic artists, and help with efforts to clean our cities.
Although clay is the common element in all the works in the show, many artists have also incorporated less conventional materials. Todd Shanafelt’s pieces combine clay with wood, metal and rubber. Rick Parsons’ creation, “Canary” is ceramic, with an MP3 player, steel, iodine salt and glass. David S. East created “Bennington Transcript Site” and “Subtracted y Added Interior” from ceramic, plywood, bare and rubber coated steel, a hunk of shag rug and a vinyl figure. “On the Horizon” by Doug Casebeer, combines stoneware with bronze, wood and metal, and Ryan Harris’ almost-iridescent “Perennial” is porcelain, iron oxide, decals, and dozens of vintage cabochons.
Matt Burton is uncertain as to what will happen once this “Mish-Mash” leaves the Noyes in mid-June. “It takes a lot of time and energy to put these shows together,” he says. And, for now, Burton wants to devote more time to his family and his business. But the pull to stay connected is strong. “It would be hard for me to end it,” Burton says. “I’ll probably do it again.”
Bonus pic--here's a photo of the Sunryser Restaurant, where we had breakfast. Completely Charming!