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University of Montevallo readies for Operation Wood-Stoke

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The wood is cut, the supplies are laid in, and the artists are gathering for Operation Wood-Stoke, the firing of the anagama kiln at the University of Montevallo. The raw ceramic creations will be loaded into the kiln, affectionately called “Fat Bastard,” beginning Thursday, Oct. 31, and continuing through Monday, Nov. 4., and a group of all-star ceramicists has gathered to fire their work alongside that of UM students and faculty members. The kiln will be lit at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Leading the team is Scott Meyer, UM professor of art and designer of the anagama kiln. A member of the Montevallo faculty for 27 years, Meyer exhibits his work nationally and internationally. Along with his students, he built the anagama kiln and fired it for the first time in 2002. He also recently authored the biography, With Fire, Richard Hirsch, A Life Between Chance and Design, published by the Cary Graphic Arts Press at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York.

The subject of that biography, Richard Hirsch, a professor of ceramic art at the School for American Crafts at RIT, from which he received his MFA, will be one of the visiting artists who will fire his work in “Fat Bastard.” He has built an international reputation as both an artist and an educator around his work in American raku pottery. His 1978 participation in the World Craft Council summit in Kyoto (home of the Raku family) forged a vital link between East and West that continues today.

Over the years, a strong bond has grown between Meyer, the UM art department and the School for American Crafts at RIT. As a result, a number of artists with ties to RIT, as well as several current students of the school, will be in Montevallo for this event. Melissa Moody, a two-year resident artist at UM, is an alumna of RIT and has several pieces of her work, fired in the anagama kiln, on display in Parnell Memorial Library in Montevallo. John Shae of Oregon, also an RIT alumnus and a student of Hirsch, had been a resident artist at UM in 2011. He participated in an anagama firing in 2012 and will fly in from Oregon for this event.

Jane Shellenbarger, an assistant professor of ceramic art at RIT, will be in attendance. Her work has been exhibited in several galleries around the country, and some pieces reside in the permanent collection of the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, among others.

Ron Meyers, who received the MFA in ceramics from RIT, is a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia. His works are in the collections of such museums as the High Museum in Atlanta, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, and the Renwick Gallery. He has received the Excellence in Teaching award from the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts (NCECA) as well as the Regis Masters Award from the Northern Clay Center, which honors senior artists who have had a major impact on the development of 20th and 21st century ceramics in the United States.

Kenneth Baskin, associate professor of art at McNeese State University in Louisiana, draws from his background in the industrial areas of Detroit to employ the function and implied physics of heavy machinery in his art. He has been featured on the cover of Ceramics Monthly and in national venues such as NCECA. His work is found in numerous public and private collections, and he will travel to Chicago after the anagama firing for a one-man exhibition of his work.

Meyer’s strong sense of collaboration has led him to bring together not only this assemblage of distinguished artists, but also a group of ceramicists who crew each firing of “Fat Bastard.” This group, referred to by Meyer as “da band,” includes Scott Bennett, co-owner of Red Dot Gallery in Homewood; Susie Bowman, owner of The Kiln Gallery in Fairhope; Chris Greenman, professor of art at Alabama State University; and Roger Anthony “Tony” Wright, associate professor of art at the University of South Alabama.

In conjunction with Wood-Stoke, a panel discussion, “Heat + Alchemy = Transformation,” including Meyer and several of the guest artists, will be held at Sloss Furnaces Monday, Nov. 4. at 6:30 p.m. The panelists will discuss the tradition of working with heat to produce new art forms. Meyer and Hirsch had participated in a similar panel at Sloss Furnace more than 20 years ago.