Miranda Howe speaks on process and navigating the art world

By Nicole Mitchell

On the evening of Monday, Oct. 5, visiting artist Miranda Howe delivered a lecture to a group of students and professors in the Wriston Art Center auditorium. Howe is an artist-in-residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and works mainly in sculptural ceramics, on which she uses many innovative techniques to impress complex designs.

Her visit is one of many connections between Lawrence University and the Kohler Arts Center. Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art and Associate Professor of Art Rob Neilson was a foundry artist-in-residence at the center, and Ruth Kohler, mother of the center’s current director, was a major donor to the construction of Kohler Hall.

Howe was brought to campus by Professor and Uihlein Fellow of Studio Arts Megan Sullivan. She thought Howe’s work would have “wide appeal for students as it combines ceramics, printmaking and sculptural techniques.” Explaining the benefits of bringing speakers such as Howe to campus, Sullivan referenced how “exposure to more types of art-making and visual problem-solving can open us up to consider more possibilities in our own art practices.”

She also said that having an artist as a public speaker “demonstrates the need to be able to verbalize your artistic process and your inspirations in a cogent fashion.” Sullivan said, “By interacting with Miranda Howe, students are able to mine the resource of her experience in the art world and as a maker … She has created different bodies of work and has years of experience in working in a studio. It is good for students to see the dedication and work ethic that is required to pursue a life in the arts.”

Accompanying Howe on her visit to campus, and providing her introduction, was the Kohler Arts Center’s Arts/Industry Coordinator Kristin Pluchar. In her introduction, Pluchar briefly explained the Arts/Industry program, a collaboration between the art center and the Kohler company, “based on the question: what happens if you give … working studio artists access, materials and technical assistance in a working, industrial, manufacturing environment?”

As part of the program, artists-in-residence like Howe are given transportation to Wisconsin, accommodations, materials and supplies, a small stipend, and access to the Kohler factory to work.

Taking the floor, Howe then spoke about bodies of work she created at each of the many prestigious residencies she has held, including Kohler, where she has been printing on and casting ceramic tiles in the shape of toilet bowl lids.

She touched on how her work is “deeply influenced by her print-making background and her interest in geology,” as well as circumstantial inspirations, including growing up with a quilter for a mother, summers spent working at Alaskan canneries and a forest fire that razed the backyard of her New Mexico home.

Asked by Associate Professor of Art History Ben Tilghman on how she chooses the designs that she imprints on the surfaces of her ceramics, Howe responded, “I’m drawn to both geometry and the super-ornate,” and also cited her travels as an influence.

After her talk, Howe took questions from the audience and elaborated on many of the technical aspects of her work, such as adding volcanic rock to her clay and screen-printing onto ceramics.