ASU Art Museum lecture series allows female artist to mold the field of ceramics

A lecture series at the ASU Art Museum is amplifying the voices of women in ceramics, one speaker at a time.

The ASU Art Museum’s curator of ceramics Garth Johnson said the Jan Fisher Memorial Lecture Series was named after an ASU art history graduate student died while in school. The museum lecture series was established by her parents.

“It brings prominent female voices from the field to ASU,” he said.

This year, the guest lecturer was Courtney Leonard, a ceramics artist from the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island, New York, who is also hosting a solo exhibition at the museum.

“She’s totally one of the best emerging voices in the field,” Johnson said. “I knew she’d be a great voice as a lecturer.”

He said while he thinks the gender balance in ceramics is fairly even, he sees the lecture series as a sign of progress away from female underrepresentation in the art world.

“Ceramics, in history, does have a lot of that, but it’s hard for me as a white male to declare that that is over,” he said. “But there certainly are institutional things that happen. I think the fact that the faculty members in major schools are split 50/50 is a good indicator of the way things are going.”

Johnson said he was taken with Leonard’s work several years before he came to ASU when he discovered her through a Facebook group she administered. He said when he drove to Arizona from Philadelphia to take his current job at ASU, he made sure to stop in Santa Fe to meet her in person.

Johnson said Leonard is a “born teacher.”

“Within minutes of getting here and starting to set up, we had students that she was interacting with,” he said. “It’s been an incredible connection to be able to get to connect Courtney with our students and audience as well, because she’s such a natural teacher.”

Katrina Montgomery, the ASU Art Museum’s communications program coordinator, said the lecture’s importance was twofold.

“I feel like a really important part of the lecture series is the engagement with the ASU arts community,” she said. "But they also work directly with students from the school of art, so it speaks to the museum’s objective of being really integrated with the ASU arts community."

Leonard said she has enjoyed interacting with ASU’s ceramics students.

“I’ve always been a part of the community, and I’ve continued to teach, and I think that that’s the best part about teaching, is that every class is a different class community, and you kind of ebb and flow through one another and get to know one another,” Leonard said. “It’s just as much of you giving of your knowledge as their giving of their knowledge as well.”

Leonard said her interactions with students tended to be mutually beneficial.

“If anyone wanted to email me or reach out and say this is what they thought about the work, that also has helped me through the years in terms of that I do feel like this conversation is something that I’ve logged, but that it’s beyond me," she said. "It’s important to listen to how one interprets it.”

Students can visit Leonard's exhibit, "Breach: Log 16," at the Brickyard Gallery until Aug. 6, 2016.

Due to a reporting error the previous version of this article incorrectly stated the history of the museum lecture series. It has since been updated. 

Related links:

ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center closes doors in preparation for move

'Dwellers on the Threshold' exhibit collects everything six ceramic students have learned


Reach the reporter at bmoffat@asu.edu or follow @bmoffatphotos on Twitter.

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