Submitted by Deborah on Fri, 09/21/2018

log for WE exhibit featuring historic ceramicsThe Russell Library will cover new territory this October when the installation "WE: American Thanksgiving Conflict and Communion" opens on Monday, October 29, 2018, in the Harrison Feature Gallery of the Richard B. Russell Special Collection Library. Created by local sculptor and potter Micaela Hobbs, in collaboration with painter Jennifer Niswonger, the exhibit examines the history of the United States through the lens of the Thanksgiving dinner table. 

The concept is presented as a series of place settings and serving pieces. Each piece is decorated with images of an individual or institution that played a part in shaping American history. The tablescape is punctuated with centerpiece sculptures that reflect the artist’s synthesis of each era of history. The installation asks visitors to imagine the conversations and arguments between and among these figures if they had all sat down together around the Thanksgiving table.

The idea for the exhibit grew out of a mishap in the artist’s studio. “On the morning of the 2016 Thanksgiving holiday, I pulled a ceramic platter out of my kiln that had formed a spectacular crack down the middle,” Hobbs recalled. “It looked as if a giant had tried to tear it in half, but stopped at the last minute. It seemed to me, in that moment, that I was holding America in my hands.”

Cracked ceramic platter
Cracked ceramic platter

The question of how to represent historic figures for which a there was not a likeness available created a stumbling block for the artist. “I didn’t want this lack of an image to prevent me from talking about these figures, but also wanted to find an approach that was honorable and accurate.” Hobbs consulted with Dr. Barbara McCaskill, a professor in UGA’s Department of English and co-director of the Civil Rights Digital Library Initiative, to determine how best to represent these individuals appropriately. Hobbs then collaborated with painter Jennifer Niswonger, an MA student in UGA's Lamar Dodd School of Art, to develop portraits for these individuals and to create a companion mural that brings figures from the Thanksgiving tablescape together.

Painting by Nismonger of Angelo
Niswonger's rendering of Angelo

Russell Library director Sheryl Vogt is excited to explore this new frontier of politics in the Russell Gallery. “At the Russell, we believe the personal is political,” said Vogt, “the debates and arguments and consensus we reach around the dinner table with family and friends shape our understanding and participation in the wider world of official politics and policymaking at all levels. This exhibit allows us to explore this dynamic with our visitors.” 

Be sure to stop by on your next visit! “WE” will be on display until December 22, 2018, in the Harrison Feature Gallery of the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries, 300 S. Hull Street. The Special Collections building is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1-5 p.m. on Saturdays. The building is closed on home football game days.

An opening reception celebrating this exhibit, gallery tours, and remarks from the artist Micaela Hobbs will take place at the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries on November 15th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. In addition to the opening and other formal events connected to the exhibit, the Russell Library welcomes requests for special tours by campus and community organizations, and groups. For more information about scheduling a tour, please contact contact Jill Severn at 706-542-5766.