Ceramics student gets art department's highest honor
November 13, 2010 12:23 AM
Note to readers: When this article was originally published in the Wednesday Nov. 17 issue of the newspaper, it incorrectly stated that Taylor Brooks is a female when he is in fact a male. The [X]press staff regrets this error.
Marsha Mack, a senior in the art department at SF State, was awarded Best in Show in the 21st Annual Stillwell Student Art Show on Nov. 9 in the SF State Fine Arts Gallery. She is the first ceramic artist to take home the award in the show's 20-year history.
"I almost cried," Mack said. "I was shaking. I couldn't believe it. It's the most technically advanced piece I've ever worked on."
Mack's creation, which stands nearly three feet tall, features two women, each its own freestanding piece, back to back, a cat wrapped around one's legs. The piece, titled "Fact and Fiction," also won for Best in Ceramics.
"I think its large scale and that it was fired in one piece was very impressive," said Mark Johnson, director of the fine arts gallery.
Qualified artwork for Best in Show must demonstrate ambition and Johnson said he believes the simpler ceramic pieces of the past may have failed to impress the student judges.
Mack, a third time entrant in the student show, went into the competition not completely sure how her work would be received, despite feeling the piece was an accomplishment.
"I received a lot of guff about it from my professors because it was so different," the San Rafael native said. She described her piece as being about the connection and balance between sadness and joy.
Mack comes from an artistic family. Her mother is a painter and her father is a photographer and framer. Mack has several of her earlier pieces on display at her father's shop in San Rafael.
"Fact and Fiction," was a year in the making and one of more than 100 entries, 60 of which are exhibited in the Stillwell show. Featured mediums include painting, ceramics, sculpture, video, textiles, and woodwork.
Johnson's Exhibition Design students curated and installed the show and also acted as jurors and selected the pieces to be exhibited, as well as the 11 award winners. All artwork was presented to them anonymously.
"Nobody even knew until last Friday when we started installing the labels who the artists were," said Maureen Bourbin, a graduate student in the museum studies program.
Students came from all over the art department with varied levels of experience and all were excited to be there.
"I wouldn't have missed a chance to exhibit some of my work," said Taylor Brooks, a first time exhibitor and senior in the department. "There is nothing to lose when it comes to putting your work out there, so I took the opportunity."
Brooks exhibited a charcoal drawing titled "Summer Daze" that was inspired by the pigs on his farm in Paso Robles, CA.
"Many different elements come into play with my work, anywhere from simply enjoying, observing and recording moments in front of me, to the news and the terrors that this world is subjected to," Brooks said.
Undergraduate students submitted the work for the juried portion of the show, but a selection of graduate work was also featured in the gallery.
Upon entering the gallery, guests were greeted by a selection of work from the show's namesake, Leo Stillwell. Stillwell was an artist from the early part of the 20th century who died when he was just 22. His mother, Josephine Stillwell, bequeathed her house to the SF State Art Department in 1988.
According to Bourbin, his mother felt he would've gone to school here and her one request was that his work be exhibited at the student show each year.
Awards were presented at a ceremony held during the show's opening. Many students continued to trickle in and out of the gallery the next day, pleased with the show's results.
"I'm always a fan of art and I think there's a lot of amazing talent at SF State," said Kate Eisler, a senior majoring in psychology and minoring in art.
Mack said she feels her win is not only a personal victory, but also one for her profession as a whole and a step toward notoriety for an art form that is often overshadowed by painters.
"I feel it will bring a lot of attention to ceramics as an art form," Mack said. "People just don't seem to appreciate or understand ceramic work for the dignified fine medium that it is."
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