Arts & Events

Exhibit: Echoes and Fragments by Rene Powell

By Peter Selz
Monday August 09, 2010 - 07:23:00 PM

A small group of innovators in the 1950s in California--Peter Voulkos, John Mason, Paul Soldner, Kenneth Price, Robert Arneson and Stephen de Staebler--began using clay no longer for its utilitarian function, but as a medium to create abstract or figurative sculpture. Called the Clay Revolution. it did not extend to ceramic tiles, which remained in the purely decorative realm. Rene Powell has done pioneering work in a narrative use of clay tiles in a show currently on view at the Doug Adams Gallery in the Bade Museum on the campus of the Graduate Theological Union. Called ECHOES AND FRAGMENTS, they deal with the Holocaust as personal experience. 

Powell's tiles tell the stories of her father, who was rescued from Germany in a British childrens' transport during the War, while her grandparents were last seen in the Jewish ghetto of Lodz, Poland. Searching for more documents in Washington's Holocaust Museum, Rene learned that they were killed. Where, we don't know. 

Using both stoneware clay and paper clay which were fired in wood, raku or gas-fired kilns, she produced compelling tiles which show demolished torah scrolls, Jewish prayer shawls, Stars of David in broken glass. The artist fired the clay at very high temperature, causing it to warp and crack, shards creating metaphors for the literal brokenness, the destruction of the Jews. We see a tile of fractured glass with the caption "Judenrein" ( free of Jews). Another tile, called Grandpa's Treasure shows the menorah which her father carefully packed when boarding the last train leaving Germany after the Kristallnacht. A large ceramic, of a railroad track stands for the cattle cars in which Jews were transported to--or ejected from-the trip to the death camps. A length of actual barbed wire is part of the work which includes clay predatory birds, swastikas, stars of David, and dismembered parts of bodies which were as sculpted, fired, and then welded together, creating a painful work. These are ceramic tiles of deep sorrow, commemorating the Shoah, which the artist made with innovative skill.