COLUMBUS, Miss.-- Ian Childers, ceramics professor at Mississippi University for Women, unveils the fruits of his recent sabbatical in California in the exhibition titled “Ian Childers: Recent Ceramics” at the Mississippi University for Women Galleries. The exhibition runs until Oct. 1.

In May 2020, Childers began his sabbatical residency at Clay by the Bay studios in San Francisco. When the entire state of California was in lockdown and San Francisco COVID-19 numbers were skyrocketing, he quickly moved to Sonoma County, forcing him to retool his entire residency experience.

The initial idea of the move was to help Clay by the Bay establish an artist residency and retreat at a 30-acre ranch not far from the city of Occidental in the hills of northern California. Studio employees assisted Childers with clearing land for fire abatement and with hosting weekend ceramic workshops. The exodus to the ranch was not entirely idyllic, however. The group had to contend with numerous fire alerts and power outages due to the wild fires raging in the state. They were often close to forced evacuation orders and a few times did voluntarily evacuate to the coast.

Eventually, San Francisco officials lifted some pandemic restrictions and most of the studio employees returned to the city, leaving Childers and a small number of individuals to the ranch.

“Living an isolated life in the Redwood Forests along California’s coast forced me to explore more primitive options for my work unlike the more complex chemistry of my typical ceramic work,” said Childers.

Childers is best known for his delicate crystalline glazes on porcelain, which require complicated processes and technology to achieve. Because of the conditions on the ranch, however, Childers set aside his usual ceramic techniques and experimented with more rudimentary processes. He built all of his kilns outdoors and had to take extra care to safeguard each against accidental fires during the firing process.

His processes on the ranch included Raku, in which the ceramics are fired at relatively low temperatures, pulled out of the kiln while still red hot, and plunged into combustible materials. The resulting soot and smoke create the surface designs. The other processes used are considered atmospheric firings, in which the conditions within the kiln itself create the designs rather than through applied glazes.

“By focusing on different types of firings, I was able to find play in my work. So often I come to my studio with very specific goals based on expectations by galleries,” said Childers. “This often leads me to feel like I am a one-person ceramics factory and not an artist who is pursuing the love of a craft. Play is a significantly important part of my work and my personality; without play, my forms become static and the work fails to grow and change.”

The Mississippi University for Women Galleries, located on the first floor of Summer Hall, are open Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., following the university calendar. The Galleries are free and open to the public.


August 27, 2021