Susan DeMay, Divergent Practices: A Career in Ceramics | June 13 – September 13, 2019

Susan DeMay trimming a bowl in her studio at Peabody College
Photo by Kinichi Fukumoto

The Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery is pleased to present Divergent Practices: A Career in Ceramics, an exhibition of works by Susan DeMay. In 1977, DeMay began her ceramics career as a graduate student on this campus, at what was then the George Peabody College for Teachers. After earning her M.S. degree and establishing a pottery studio of her own, she was invited to return to Vanderbilt to teach. This year, more than four decades after her arrival here, she celebrates her retirement as a professor in Vanderbilt’s Department of Art. This exhibition surveys ceramics DeMay produced over decades of teaching, running her own production line, and creating original art pieces in clay.

On view are selections from three bodies of work. The first set includes pieces made for classroom demonstrations, which underscore technical methods as well as historic and aesthetic considerations. The second represents the colorful production works that DeMay fabricated while running a pottery business with the help of up to nine assistants. The third group includes a suite of slab-constructed forms with unique surface treatments and glassy glazes. Each set of artworks reveals a wide range of visual references, an ingrained understanding of traditional ceramic practices, and an inspired exploration into color and hand-wrought forms.

Susan DeMay’s many years of experimenting in clay have resulted in a broad visual vocabulary. When surveying examples of ceramics made throughout her prolific career, a stylistic thread emerges. Vessels, plates, and sculptures are all canvases for DeMay’s rich and vivid glazes, which often drip and run together in formations that resemble winding rivers, branching trees, or the veins of a leaf. Her tendency to let patterns occur in the firing process—as they do in nature—demonstrates a deep involvement with her medium and an understanding of its potential to reflect the wider world.

Throughout the years, DeMay has regularly participated in solo and group exhibitions. Her artworks and articles have been featured in a number of publications, several examples of which are displayed here. These experiences, winding in many directions, converge in a teaching philosophy that advocates for many paths toward a single endeavor.

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