Exhibition pays tribute to late ceramics professor

‘Fish Pond 2’ by Catherine Connor-Talasek

By Sarah Weinman

The exhibition “Remembering an Artist: Ceramics of Catherine Connor-Talasek” at Fontbonne University’s Fine Arts Gallery is a beautiful tribute to the late ceramics professor. She loved teaching and was integral in developing Fontbonne’s ceramics department.

There is such an incredible variety of styles in the exhibition that it’s hard to believe one person created all of the pieces on display. They range from sophisticated to whimsical. Some ceramics resemble marble carvings. Others evoke Native American pottery, with animal forms and geometric patterns in dark glazes. One fanciful piece depicts an image of two birds kissing, rendered in pastel glazes.

Connor-Talasek’s wide-ranging interests account for this diversity. Her daughter, McKayla Talasek, explains, “One of her favorite pottery forms was early folk pottery from England and Ireland. She [also] had a love for Native American pottery, recognizing that women were the sole makers of ceramic art.”

Talasek continues, “She…was not impressed with extreme control or formality, but found beauty in simplicity and how decoration related to three-dimensional form.” 

Case in point is a striking group of three ceramics titled “After Picasso 1,” “After Picasso 2,” and “After Picasso 3.” Glazed in blue and white, each has a round body with a tubular ceramic handle. On each round body, Connor-Talasek painted a deconstructed face inspired by Picasso’s work, with the eyes, nose, and mouth in unexpected places.

Another fascinating triad is made up of three large shallow bowl-shaped vessels, each with a design of fish in a different style.

“Fishpond 1” and “Fishpond 3” have similar colors and compositions. Both feature six fish in pastel glazes which overlap each other. They swim through water represented by a blue-glazed background. These serene pieces bookend the dramatic middle piece, “Fishpond 2.”

Wonderfully expressionistic, “Fishpond 2” displays a group of five fish outlined in thick black lines. Connor-Talasek painted the fish in green, orange, red, and white glazes applied with thick brushstrokes. The fish swim head to tail in a circle around a black and red spiral in the center, creating a dynamic composition.