Christine Federighi taught me at the University of Miami, back when I was a wayward ceramics sculpture minor. And I sucked at the wheel; I lacked the patience, the wrist strength, the sheer talent that she so effortlessly displayed.
Watching Federighi craft a simple bowl from a lump of clay was awe inspiring. Her hands were broad and looked tough to the touch. A sculptor’s hands are well-used tools, fingernails often caked with clay right up to and around the nail bed. But the creations she shaped were absolute perfection. She could make a bowl that looked like a machine had mass produced it. It was infuriating to a wheel idiot like myself. My aspirations of being like Demi Moore in Ghost disappeared midway through the semester. Mine were not even the kind of bowls you’d want to take home to your mother.
Federighi was a somewhat intimidating presence in the open classroom space, striding about the room in a pale pink polo tee. If she stopped by your wheel while you were working, it meant you were probably screwing up – the sides of your vessel were too thin and threatened to cave, or the base of your bowl was too thick so you’d never achieve the needed height.
I held a healthy respect for this brusque artist, who drove a dusty pick up truck, just from the sheer force of her character. Then I learned more about her work, and why the other teachers in the sculpture department deferred to her so readily.
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Her creations are scattered in random locations throughout the University of Miami campus – you can find a cabinet full of her slender feminine vessels in the lobby of the Ashe Building, among other random spots. Her work all has a very distinctive flair, totems and globes inspired by ancient Western cultures, themes of nature and femininity intertwined together. Lush leaves wrapped around a nude figure. That’s what I visualize when I think of Chris Federighi. This woman, who gave me a completely deserved C- in her class, was a legend in her field. I didn’t realize this until after I’d graduated. I didn’t know she had succumbed to cancer – or even had the disease at all – until I heard about the tribute to her that opened this past weekend at the Lowe Art Museum. If you haven’t heard of her, or seen her work before, head to Coral Gables to check out "A Celebration in Clay" for yourself. All of the whimsy, delight, and emotion she kept separate from her day-to-day routine as a professor will become immediately apparent. The exhibition will run through May 27. --Patrice Yursik