South Florida's cultural season is getting underway. Galleries are opening exhibits, theaters are revealing their 2016-17 performances, and Miami's major museums have already announced their Art Basel shows. But in the midst of all the buzz, the Ceramic League of Miami is keeping it old-school.
“The Ceramic League of Miami (CLM) was founded in 1950 by a group of women artists who came together to nurture their interest and skills in the ceramic arts,” explains Carol Larsson, board member and publicity chair of the league. “Under their stewardship, CLM grew from their garages to the Lowe gallery at the University of Miami, where they began to sponsor national juried ceramic arts exhibitions. Today CLM owns its own, fully equipped facility on SW 129 Street and continues the tradition of its founding members with ceramic arts classes, an annual ceramics exhibition juried by nationally recognized artists, and community service projects.”
Even if you're a local-arts savant, you're probably not familiar with CLM's work, and learning about the league offers the opportunity to relearn Miami's art history. As ceramic artist James Herring puts it: “The CLM is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, arts organizations in South Florida. It survives and flourishes because it serves the broad community of people, from hobbyist to professional artist. It provides facilities that are accessible and open to anyone interested in learning about working with clay.”
That welcoming philosophy stands in sharp contrast to the rest of Miami's VIP-fueled art scene. CLM’s vibe is more the bohemian and quirky fringe persona of Old Florida than the modern, ritzy, champagne-guzzling art dealer. Today, Miami is known for the glut of art fairs that descend upon the city, but in the '50s and early '60s, CLM was responsible for some of the most prestigious competitive exhibitions in the United States. The evidence remains in the Lowe’s ceramic collection, as well as the League’s archives.
It’s easy to see how ceramics — whether one chooses to view it as a craft or an art form — has fallen to the wayside while flashier art interests grow more popular and profitable each year. Now in the midst of its 66th juried showing, CLM has proven a solid-stone longevity nursed in the shadows of passing trends. If an argument can be made that the art world isn’t about art anymore, there’s no denying that the weighted average of craftsmanship, tradition, necessity, and expression in ceramics has remained the mission throughout.
“It is a very exciting time to be a ceramist because the field has really gotten stronger and much more diverse than it used to be when I was learning,” ceramist Lisa Orr says. “The main place to train for a professional career is a college or university, and some departments are de-emphasizing or even eliminating ceramics, while others are expanding dramatically to embrace all of the possibilities that students are seeing on social media, etc. Many departments have expanded with kiln types that are extraordinary and found in other parts of the world, or they have added technology for ceramics such as 3D printing.”
Orr, a recent shower and lecturer at Miami Dade College (MDC), as well as a ceramist of international renown, served as this year’s juror for CLM's annual exhibit. Her inclusion represents an increasing interest from museums and universities in the league in recent years. After an early affiliation with academics, the League had largely remained out of the limelight until last year’s show, which was held at the Coral Gables Museum. This year, MDC’s Kendall campus will host an opportunity that director of campus galleries and associate curator for MDC and the Museum of Art and Design (MOA+D), Wanda Texon, finds “a perfect fit; we teach ceramics, and this is a wonderful opportunity to show that ceramics is more than just pots and pans.”
Will this exhibit help push CLM into a brighter spotlight? Maybe, maybe not. But the reputation the institution has built in two-thirds of a century is undeniable. If anything, the League stands as a sharp reminder to Miamians of how we take local resources for granted in favor of whatever trend rolls into town. If the Basel sheriffs ever pull the plug on South Florida, CLM will surely remain.
Larsson explains it best: “These exhibitions give the public an opportunity to see and learn about the breadth of the ceramic arts, from wheel-thrown functional ware to wheel-altered and hand-built sculptural art and decorative pieces to cast porcelain. Few galleries display this range of ceramic techniques at one time, so CLM’s exhibitions are a unique experience. In addition, because works made by nonprofessional artists sit alongside works by professional artists, CLM’s exhibitions inherently make art accessible to all.” And that's what art should be.
The Ceramic League of Miami’s 66th-Annual Members Exhibition
Through November 3 at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus' Martin and Pat Fine Center for the Arts, 11011 SW 104th St., Bldg. M, Miami. Call 305-237-7704 or visit mdc.edu/galleries.