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Reflections on our Collection – Sunday, June 14, 2020

Looking deeper at the artwork held by the MAS and matching it with poetry.

This week’s selection from the archives is a handsome ceramic piece by late Georgia artist Gail Corcoran-Freundt. She is especially known for her ceramic sculptural installation at the Lakewood Marta Station in Atlanta in 1984. We obtained this piece, hefty in weight and solid to hold, as a gift from the Connell Gallery in Atlanta back in 2007 under the direction of Suzanne Harper, the then Executive Director of the Museum and Alex Klinglehofer who held my position as Curator of Art at the time of accession.

The piece begged to be touched and picked up. The figure on the piece stands out in the dark of the vault- the complexion of the woman is radiant. I probably should have put her back on the shelf in favor of a simpler choice- one easier to match to art history and poetry. But I am not to be daunted by a challenge. Here we go–Raku is a firing process dating far back in history—1600’s or further, most likely ancient since it is very simple and forthright as firing goes. I learned it from my teacher at the University of Georgia back in 1983, Rick Berman. As it turns out, he was also a colleague and teacher of the artist of our selection. He taught us how to build the raku site, and he made beautiful little bowls for each of us to keep- I still have mine. The firing took place out in the parking lot of the visual arts building and seemed to be not much more than a fire built in an oil can I would witness of the homeless people I would pass at night when I lived New York many years later. It is an old process and very direct. It is one that marks the pieces with char. Black is almost always its signature, and its direct heat imprints the clay body with all sorts of surprises.

I think I was mesmerized by the figure against the rough black firing that raku produces. Her 3/4 pose, slightly glancing up and to the left, is reminiscent of many paintings in art history. As I listed where to start my comparisons, the list looked like this:

I think the best likeness I found was this poster by Toulouse Lautrec of the Artist Bruant. Though the picture is of a man, I believe it is my best comparison. Can you see the similarities? The jaw, the line quality, the eyebrows. …….bone structure- here is another pastel by Lautrec worth noting. Toulouse Lautrec was a French artist and a post-impressionist of the 19th Century.

Does this Klimt painting seem similar? (Woman in Gold) He was Austrian and painted at the turn of the 20th century. Also, I found many examples by Egon Schiele, also Austrian, and was Klimt’s student.


All this is fun and much like a game. But what it does legitimately is show you the iconography of art. It shows you how something as simple as an upward 3/4 view of an androgynous-looking female can speak to art from the present and run all the way back to the 1400s, and from all over the world. There is no telling what Gail Corcoran-Freundt had in mind when she etched the head onto the clay. Was she looking at a real person? Is this a portrait? Was she responding to a period of time in art with the flower in the ear? Something of an Art Nouveau feel to it?- We don’t get to know exactly. But that is ok. We get to guess. And respond. I feel it is important to note, also, that because I was able to find this facial depiction in varying degrees from a long timeline in art history, it goes to show what artists respond to as beautiful or interesting or worth making art about- their choices are conscious and subconscious.

Here is a Flemish School painting I thought bore some resemblance to our woman on the plate. I really loved the contrast of a woman’s head on our raku piece. It’s less of a vessel to me–a utilitarian bowl or platter/plate, and more like a rondo, a round-shaped painting, a format often used by Renaissance painters for holy images of the Madonna. Our piece seems almost a sculpture, a bas relief yet has no definite dimensional sculpting. The edges of the plate are rough and whitish gray like coral from the ocean.

I found these two poems to put with this selection:

The mysteries
God has hidden
in a woman's gaze
cannot be found in all
the libraries of wise men
  - Kostas Lagos


“To the Moon”
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Along the stars that have a different birth,—
And ever-changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

 - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ours is a great piece to have in our collection. I know more about it now, and so do you. Thanks for joining me on this delightful adventure.

Kristy Edwards,
MAS Curator of Art