In his delicately rendered sculptures, Michael Sherrill seeks to elicit a sense of wonder from viewers, and to make them see the natural world anew as he works with clay, glass, and metal to create exquisite floral forms. This retrospective organized by The Mint Museum illustrates the artist’s evolution over his more than 40-year career and highlights his contributions to contemporary art, craft, and design.
Michael Sherrill Retrospective opens later this month at Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, 500 South Tryon Street. The museum will offer member-only hours 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. on Friday October 26; Sherrill gives a public talk, free with museum admission, 11 a.m. Saturday October 27. It is followed by a book signing in the Mint Museum Store with a new, lavishly illustrated catalogue published by The Mint Museum to accompany the exhibition.
The exhibition will travel to the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in summer 2019, and the Arizona State University Art Museum in early 2020.
“The idea for a Michael Sherrill Retrospective was ignited by close study of one of the Mint’s sculpture’s, Temple of the Cool Beauty (Yucca), then on loan from Ann and Tom Cousins, and further research,” said Annie Carlano, the Mint’s curator of Craft, Design, & Fashion. “Surveying contemporary clay globally, Michael’s work is exceptional in its sheer beauty—delicate botanical reveries that chronicle life cycles from blossom to wither. His command of materials, not just clay but metal and glass, and his brilliance as an inventor of tools and technologies, make the magic happen. There is simply nothing like his work anywhere on the planet.”
Carlano serves as lead organizing curator and Marilyn Zapf of The Center for Craft is guest curator; filmmakers Matthew Mebane and Maria White contributed video to the exhibition.
Primarily a self-taught artist, Sherrill moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to the Western North Carolina mountains in 1974. His early influences came from the North Carolina folk pottery tradition and the community surrounding Penland School of Crafts, Seagrove Potters, and the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, as well as from his studies of the ceramics of Asia and the Americas. These influences are apparent in Sherrill’s functional objects from the late 1970s and 80s. These early explorations led quickly to a new sculptural vocabulary, strong minimalist organic forms inspired by the botanical world. Sherrill’s unique aesthetic sensibilities are matched by his extraordinary skill and inventiveness. A true innovator, he has developed clay bodies and special tools to make the material fulfill his desired artistic outcome.
Over 70 objects will be on view, from a group of Steins (1977) to A Beautiful Death (2017). Loans from institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Arts and Design, New York; the Racine Museum of Art; and individual collectors in Oregon, Florida, Vermont, and North Carolina are featured.
“The Mint Museum is committed to collecting, publishing, and exhibiting the best of contemporary craft,” said Dr. Todd A. Herman, President & CEO of the Mint. “We have recognized the unique talent of Michael Sherrill since his early forays in functional vessels, and through accessions and exhibitions have acknowledged his creative expression and skill. This retrospective is the culmination of several years of dedication and excellence on the part of Mint staff and I am proud of our team and other contributors.”
Exhibition sections and catalogue
Michael Sherrill Retrospective begins with a sense of place, as the visitor walks through re-creations and interpretations of his cobalt blue studio doors and the woods of his mountain home. Twenty-first-century ceramics, like contemporary art in general, can be characterized as an exciting period of experimentation: to express their creative vision, makers are incorporating new media and technologies to reach beyond traditional methods. Sherrill is one of the foremost practitioners of this approach. His inventiveness and worldview play ahead of current trends, and working off the beaten track, he developed a naturalist’s sensitivity to the botanical wonders of Bat Cave, North Carolina. Finding the universal in the close at hand, Sherrill’s extraordinary evolution in creating with clay—and other materials—is conveyed in this exhibition.
The first section of the exhibition, Early Works, features functional stoneware forms that demonstrate the young artist’s influences from both historic and contemporary North Carolina pottery as well as Native American and Asian inspired shapes, glazes, and raku firing techniques. It’s the smallest section of the show, due to the fact Sherrill’s oeuvre evolved so quickly from an artist’s initial period of exploration to maturity.
Teapots is the largest section of the exhibition and illustrates the way in which Sherrill uses the utilitarian object as vehicle for his forays into materials, process, and aesthetics. Here we can see sober Minimalist designs, drawing on traditional squat round forms, exuberant colorful expressionist compositions, and pure abstract forms. In this rich and imaginative installation, reminiscent of a fine tea shop, what is unseen is as important as the surface ornamentation, as Sherrill moves fluidly from stoneware to porcelain. Installed in an imaginative teashop-like setting, this section of the exhibition includes a hand-on activity related teas from around the world.
In an intimate room off the Teapot section is Studio. In this section of the exhibition visitors will encounter a selection of tools, organic materials, and other curiosities from Michael Sherrill’s actual studio Wonder Wall—a space filled with objects that inspire and invite contemplation. Underscoring the inventor in the artist, across from the Wonder Wall is an installation of array of colorful clay work tools from the artist’s Mudtools line. Visitors will be able to scroll through the twitter feed of Mudtools to see the amazing ways people around the globe are utilizing these implements.
Contemporary Sculpture begins with transitional objects from teapot botanical abstractions to full blown sculpture. Inspired by the ubiquitous rhododendron that he sees every day on his daily walks with his wife Margery, the artist crafted a series of ceramic and life size sculptures in 2008. Still, this is not entirely a linear path, as Sherrill hones his naturalist sensibilities, skill, and technologies creating both large scale an intimate ornate plant forms and makes huge creative leaps to Neo-Minimalist sheaths, reminiscent of Agnes Martin paintings. The last group of objects in the visitor’s path was created since 2014. Showing his fantastic facility with clay, glass, and lost wax casting bronze in wall mounted and freestanding sculptures, objects such as Black Medicine, A Beautiful Death, and Dutch Solomon eschew any doubt that he is a Southern American master.
Each section is introduced by a video that features Michael Sherrill addressing the visitor. Shot on location in Bat Cave and including some vintage film, the videos were produced by Matthew Mebane and Maria White, award winning documentary filmmakers based in Charleston, South Carolina.
A scholarly exhibition catalogue, edited by Carlano, accompanies the exhibition. It features essays by Marilyn Zapf, Assistant Director and Curator, The Center for Craft and Guest Curator; and Ezra Shales, Associate Professor of Art History, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Published by The Mint Museum, the book will be available for $40 at both museum locations; beginning November 15, it will be available online at store.mintmuseum.org.
Michael Sherrill has received numerous prestigious awards, including the US Windgate Fellowship: Crafts and the Arts, US Artists (2010) and is a highly regarded teacher and lecturer throughout the United States, and in Japan and China. He serves on several non-profit boards and councils including the Archie Bray Foundation, and the Center for Craft, and has served as a member of the Founders’ Circle Board of Directors.
Mint curators Annie Carlano, Senior Curator of Craft, Design & Fashion and Emily Pazar, former curatorial assistant for Craft, Design & Fashion are the organizing curators; Marilyn Zapf, Assistant Director and Curator, The Center for Craft, Asheville, N.C., is Guest Curator.
The exhibition is organized by The Mint Museum. STEELFAB is the presenting sponsor for the exhibition. Generous support for the exhibition catalogue and tour provided by the Windgate Foundation; additional funding from the Founders’ Circle and Bank of America.
Media and invited guests are invited to preview the exhibition from 10 a.m.-noon on Thursday October 25; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.