Ceramics get some respect from Heights Arts guest curator

A ceramic work by Kristen Cliffel enjoys the spotlight at the Heights Arts gallery show curated by Tom Huck.

Tom Huck, guest curator of the All-Ohio Ceramics Invitational, on view Sept. 6 through Oct.19 at Heights Arts gallery, believes ceramic art and other craft mediums don’t always get their due as fine art.

Huck studied ceramics at the Cleveland Institute of Art, operated Avante Gallery on Murray Hill Road in Little Italy, and is now curator of University Hospitals’ art collection. “One reason I was eager to curate this show,” he said, “is to help elevate ceramic art awareness. I remember occasionally in my old gallery people would come in and look around and say ‘Oh, this isn’t a real gallery, they don’t have any paintings.’ I realized there’s still a lot of education to do.”

Huck was also intrigued by the possibilities of the Heights Arts gallery space. “Months before, in the planning stages,” he recalled, “I’d drive by at night, and I’d slow down and look at the windows and think ‘I bet this work by this artist would be great right there.’ The Heights Arts show is really what I hoped it would be, mostly because of the Lee Road district and all the influxes of different people there. Even when I was there setting up, I was amazed at the number of people who stopped in.”

The gallery’s moveable walls allowed for a significant reconfiguration of the space, to show off the three-dimensional ceramics to best advantage.

“We have such a rich history, with the contemporary glass movement originating in Toledo and a rich ceramics history in East Liverpool and Zanesville and Cincinnati—Ohio has been a very rich craft area for quite a while,” Huck said.  “I think it’s an exciting time now. Surveys have been conducted that identify Cleveland as one of the top places for an artist to live, especially if you’re working in a fine-craft medium. Cleveland has an affordable cost of living, and is centrally located between Baltimore, Philly, New York, Chicago.”

“The different arts organizations have different roles to play” in supporting the local art scene, said Huck. “The Cleveland Museum of Art curates exhibitions that take years of planning and no small organization could ever pull it off, whereas at places like my former gallery on Murray Hill or Heights Arts, the concepts are also defined within a consumer market: how is that going to fit realistically into people’s budgets and into their spaces? At University Hospitals, there’s not that limit on medium or scale—we focus on the healing process of patients. Working with that in mind has really helped me grow as a curator. It’s not about my personal taste so much as the hospital’s mission: To Heal, To Teach, To Discover.“

For many artists, figuring out how to build a financially viable career is a challenge, and Huck draws on his practical experience. “I advise aspiring artists to look at their work as a clock—12 to 6 is producing your work, but the only way to get from 6 back to 12 again is to tell people about it. I remember when I had my first show at my gallery, on the opening night somebody wanted to purchase a piece and I said, ‘Seriously?’ I was shocked when I realized I hadn’t even bought any sales slips. It didn’t even cross my mind. I had been completely tuned into having the work look right: the lighting, the presentation. To me, the art and artist deserved it and the public deserved it, and that’s still my platform. So my first sale was written up on a cocktail napkin.”

Heights Arts gallery is at 2175 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. The All-Ohio Ceramics Invitational is on view there through Oct. 19.

Greg Donley

Greg Donley was a founding board member of Heights Arts.

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Volume 6, Issue 11, Posted 10:16 AM, 10.15.2013