April showers bring May flowers and boy, do they. Between Mother’s Day bouquets and the roses, hydrangeas and peonies blossoming in our gardens, blooms will be booming in coming weeks. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a one-of-a-kind vase. Instead of being saddled with yet another generic glass one, the recipient will have something that can stand on its own on a mantel, sideboard or coffee table — with or without flowers. “Taming Nature,” a group exhibition at Red Star Studios at Belger Arts Center, illustrates this idea perfectly. Paul Donnelly, ceramic artist and assistant professor at Kansas City Art Institute, asked 20 nationally recognized ceramic artists to create pieces that are used for or inspired by the art of floral arranging. The result is a collection of exquisite pieces — mostly vases — that, Donnelly says, depict “how we physically tame nature by arranging plants and flowers for decorative or ritualistic purposes. In a more literal way, it represents how ceramic artists control nature, specifically clay as a material, to produce tangible objects that we use to surround ourselves in our lives.” Studio Dan Meiners is collaborating with Red Star to create floral arrangements for the vases during the exhibit. The studio also created the arrangements photographed for this story. Note how the elegance and artistry of the clay vessels are elevated by the colorful blooms that contrast with the glazes on the clay and curling vines or knife-like greenery that complement geometric lines.
Justin McGuire, a florist at Studio Dan Meiners, kept his designs simple.
“You don’t want the flowers to overtake the vase,” he says. “I tried to do something more minimal, structural and modern. You don’t want a big poof of flowers sticking out of them.”
But these vases would also look fantastic with no flowers at all. And many of them don’t cost much more than mass-produced vases from national home retailers.
“People don’t realize how accessible this art is if you are starting out collecting or want to buy something for a gift,” says Consuelo Cruz, marketing and community relations manager at Belger Arts Center. “Some of these have been shown nationally and internationally.” Rain Harris, ceramic artist at Belger Crane Yard Studios, points out that even when a vase is part of an artist series, it’s still a one-of-a-kind piece, and your dollars are supporting a cottage industry.
“It’s nice when you take something out of the closet and enjoy using it, but you also have a relationship with the artist,” she says.
“There is an intimacy,” adds Meredith Host, another ceramic artist at the Crane Yard Studios. More than likely, there’s also an interesting story behind the artist’s conceptualization of the vase.
Host decorates her pieces by playing with the polka dots and dimples found on paper towels. “They’re domestic patterns we see every day that are overlooked,” she says. “I’m celebrating them in new ways that allow them to be acknowledged in our daily use but in a different context; in a permanent context rather than a throw-away one.”
And just because an item is shaped like a vase doesn’t mean it’s only for flowers. Harris likes the idea of using short, wide-neck vases to hold stalks of celery or asparagus during a dinner party.
Harris collaborates with Donnelly on projects; he throws the pieces on the pottery wheel, and she decorates them. Several of them are vases decorated with intricate decals from around the world, with tiny, delicate necks just wide enough to hold a single stem.
“If you have a garden, you can pop one flower in there and it would look great,” she says.
With Mother’s Day next week, consider the gift of a vase to display the rewards of her green thumb.
“Taming Nature” runs through June 28 at Red Star Studios at Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut St. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 816-474-7316 or go to RedStarStudios.org.
• Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick Blvd., 816-802-3423; KCAI.edu.
The Art Institute is holding its end-of-semester exhibition and sale (including ceramics) May 9-11.
• Leedy-Voulkos Art Center shop, 2012 Baltimore Ave., 816-474-1919
• Kincaid’s at 45th, 1812 W. 45th St., 816-753-5067
• The Nelson-Atkins Museum shop, 4525 Oak St., 816-751-1278
• Museo, 3021 Main St., 816-531-3537
• George, A Lifestyle Store, 315 E. 55th St., 816-361-2128