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 Susan Dewsnap  (20/21st century)

About: Susan Dewsnap


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Lived/Active: Nebraska/Maine      Known for: pottery bowls, ceramics

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is an exhibition review by L. Kent Wolgamott, for the Lincoln, Nebraska Lincoln Journal Star, August 27, 2011:

"Susan Dewsnap shows some of nations' best pottery at Lux"

Susan Dewsnap is one of the finest potters working in the country today.

Last year, she brought back to Lincoln the Best of Show award from the Strictly Functional Pottery Nationals, taking one of the top prizes in the pottery world for a large lidded jar.

That piece isn't in "New Work," Dewsnap's show at the Lux Center for the Arts. But plenty of similar jars demonstrate her inventiveness and technical skill -- a combination of surface design derived from her training as a painter and exquisite, smartly considered craftsmanship.
The easiest described example of Dewsnap's craftsmanship and shaping of the pieces can be found in the lids that she puts on many of her jars. Rather than having a knob that sticks up, the lids are either inset into the vessel with a hole that allows them to be removed or are caps that appear to be part of the pot but lift off.

That makes them both physically and visually different from the norm and gives them a tight, connected feel, providing a unified space for the surface designs.

Those designs include lattice-inspired work on one series of plates, a minimalist combination of a round green area and black dots on another, and organic-looking lines, circles and patterns.

Again, unlike most pottery, nearly all the images are abstracted. In other words, they don't look like pretty flowers or leaves decorating the surface. In fact, some of the imagery appears to recede or move forward depending on the angle at which it is viewed -- a clear connection to painting.

"I look to painting as much as ceramic history, as my work draws from art history as an eternal source and presence," writes Dewsnap, whose BFA is in painting from the University of New Hampshire. She received her MFA in ceramics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008.

Dewsnap's use of the clay in her soda-fired stoneware is just as impressive as the craftsmanship and design. The clay is left nearly raw on the surface, rough to the touch rather than covered with layers of glazes, the dark brown coming through as one of the primary colors.

That's right -- I did say touch.

Lux isn't a "stay three feet away from the artwork" museum, and pottery is made to be used. So it's OK to handle the work, to remove and replace the deceptive lids that go into the jars with a satisfying click, to hold a coffee cup with both hands -- an action that imitates the hands of the maker.

Because the cups, plates, tumblers, jars and bowls are created to be on kitchen tables or displayed in a living room, not hung on the walls or carefully preserved in a vitrine and contemplated, pottery has been consigned to the world of craft rather than "art."

But utilitarian functionality doesn't mean that pottery lacks aesthetic quality. That is easily seen in a pairing of two of Dewsnap's pieces, a "tall vase form black/yellow" and a matching "Cylindrical vase form."

Each is done in black and yellow ochre with the sweeping lines moving the eye around the vase, making the surface visually alive across the vessel's perfectly thrown curves. That -- to me at least -- is art along with being fine craft.

Take a look at Dewsnap's show, which is on view through Oct. 1. If you buy something, take it home and use it. That's what it's for. Dewsnap would undoubtedly approve. She's a potter, after all.

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