Embedded Hands I
Architectural clay, oxide wash, pebble glaze, gas-fired
10" x 11" x 6" (2003)
The “Embedded Hands” series speaks of the hands
of a mother nurturing her child’s hands. Mother and
daughter are holding one vessel representing their shared
Click on the highlighted portion of the picture
(revealed when you mouse over the image) to see
details of this piece.
Read a review by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review art critic Kurt Shaw
(see below or http://www.clayplace.com/review_15.htm)
The Clay Place displays one woman's
life stories as told through her art
The Clay Place Gallery
By Kurt Shaw
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Art Critic
Friday, May 30, 2003
Clay artist Ceil Leeper Sturdevant remembers those predawn trips
during her childhood when she and her family would pack
up their wood-paneled station wagon early on Sunday
mornings and head north from their home in Franklin to
Once there, she and her sisters - Jan, Kay and Helen - would collect
shells while her father grilled a beachside breakfast of bacon, eggs
and toast on a gas grill.
"It was just wonderful," Sturdevant says. "I remember
we did it many times when I was a child."
It is her daughter, Helena, who collects shells whenever Sturdevant
travels to Lake Erie these days. But she looks back on
those early days fondly. So much so that it was the
inspiration for the piece "Me and My Three Sisters,"
which is the first of 23 works in clay created by Sturdevant
that visitors will see when entering the Clay Place Gallery
in Shadyside, where her solo show "Works in Green
& Blue" is on view.
Featuring four figures in a boat, each with a small shell in her
lap, the piece is just one of several in the show that
deal with the topic of life's journeys. It's something
this artist knows a lot about, having traveled extensively
throughout the world since first being bitten by the
travel bug after a trip to Transylvania while just a teen.
"From then on, I loved to travel," Sturdevant says,
"so every time I get a chance I go."
One of her favorite places to go is Japan. She has been there
several times. The latest trip was just last year when
she went to Kyoto, Nara and Osaka with 15 of her students
from the Ellis School in Shadyside, where she has taught
ceramics since 1981.
Three pieces from a series titled "Eastern Currents,"
which was inspired by that trip, are on display in this
exhibition and each features a grouping of three kimono-clad
ladies who appear wind-blown while standing in a boat
whose sides seem to ripple and curl from imaginary currents.
Propped up on heavy steel coils, the boats and the figures contained
within them are as texture-laden as they are full of
Sturdevant works almost exclusively in architectural clay, which not
only can withstand drastic changes in temperature but
also has an inherent crudeness. "I like the rough,
nasty, gnarly texture of it verses porcelain, which is
smooth," says the artist.
It's a quality that Sturdevant likes to play up with washes of black
iron oxide and copper carbonate in all of her pieces. In
some cases, she takes it to the extreme by adding a unique
pearly white glaze that bubbles on the surface during
firing. Once cooled, she tops it with a wash of gold
gouache that settles on the unglazed surfaces exposed
between the raised pearls of glaze.
Four large urns from her Maiden Vessels series that line one wall of
the gallery exemplify this technique perfectly. Sturdevant
describes the technique as being the result of a "happy
accident" years ago when she once fired a piece with
a similar glaze a little too long.
Accidental or not, it works wonderfully to complement, even enhance,
the unique forms which also make reference to archaeology by way of
looking like ancient objects recovered.
Such also is the case with six wall-hung pieces from her
"Scrolls of Wisdom Series," where fluted forms
are grouped like sea coral and interspersed with small
figures in contrasting high-gloss glazes.
The only series not directly inspired by her travels, Sturdevant
says of the body of work, "It's a political statement
To that end, she has copied excerpts from "The Book of
Secrets" from the Dead Sea Scrolls and placed them
inside each of the fluted forms.
Travel experiences are again referenced in "Egyptian
Sanctuaries I" and "Egyptian Sanctuaries II,"
which are large bird forms that were inspired by the
fantastical animals in Dr. Seuss books and Gebi, an
Egyptian goose symbol Sturdevant learned of on her travels
The three openings found in each of the pieces represent life
choices, says the artist, but they also were inspired by
Sturdevant's experience crawling through the ancient
passageways of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza.
Perhaps Sturdevant's favorite journey, though, is the one she
currently is involved with - raising Helena, who is 3
It is a journey referenced in "The Embedded Hands Series,"
in which her hands cradle that of her daughter's. "It's
her hands and my hands catching grasshoppers,"
In a sweepingly symbolic gesture, Sturdevant has included the boat
form again in each of the three pieces from that series on
"The boat is a symbolic reference to voyage," says the
artist, adding that motherhood is her greatest voyage of