Introducing Elizabeth Coleman, whose work is a beautiful tapestry of unique mediums.

Rumriver Art Center is thrilled to open a new gallery show titled: Flower Girl and Friends: (Mostly) New Work by Elizabeth Coleman, showcasing remarkable porcelain and glass artwork by Elizabeth Coleman.

Elizabeth has discovered captivating ways to blend ceramics and glass. A deeper look within her artwork reveals fascinating stories, symbolism and challenges to social norms. 

Elizabeth Coleman’s artistic journey is marked by her persistent question: “How could I do that?”  While pursuing a doctoral program in English at the University of Illinois, she successfully completed her qualifying exams. It was during this time that a friend suggested taking an art class together as a well-deserved reward. Little did she know that this simple decision would steer her life in a completely new direction.

Over the next few years, Elizabeth found herself increasingly drawn to pursuing artistic endeavors. As her art studio awakened her visual arts creativity, she pondered what it would take to make this her career path. 

“I knew from being a graduate student that the University of Illinois gives a tuition and fee waiver to people who are teaching for them. And so I switched to being an instructor in the English department. I used the tuition and fee waiver to be an art student. Everywhere I went, I would just ask questions like: what would it take for me to… (be able to take ceramics classes here)?”

Photo credit: Ann Schremp

With the University of Illinois’s tuition waiver for instructors, Elizabeth’s path was clear to pursue her passion for art while earning her B.F.A. in Ceramics and Glass. Next she earned an M.F.A. in Visual Art in September 2003, from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. 

As she mastered one artform, it led to an interest in expanding and/or combining it with other media,  such as combining glass and ceramics.  So she once again asked the questions: “What would it take to ___?”  and “How would I ___?”

At times she was told “That can’t be done.” Sometimes the reasons were practical or from a chemistry perspective. Elizabeth assessed the obstacles and often found ways to surpass these boundaries and obstacles. 

“I am the kind of student that if somebody said it couldn’t be done I’d ask, ‘but why not?’ Then I would read about it, think about it, and sometimes I understood that I was being told it couldn’t be done because it actually couldn’t be done. But sometimes, I’d find that ‘can’t be done’ meant, ‘not in this studio,’ or ‘not in this class.’ And when I’d experiment in my own studio, I’d find that it was possible to solder porcelain to glass, for example.”  Previously she’d relied on cold-joining methods such as stacking, gluing, or sewing, but now she is able to more permanently marry the two materials into windows and sculptures. 

Inspired by the poet Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth brings a: “Tell all the truth but Tell it slant” concept into her artwork, introducing truth sideways or in more digestible doses. Her artwork tells stories in a coded yet comprehensive way. Windows are one element she likes to incorporate into artwork to signify the layers of information, and emerging understanding. Brick walls serve as metaphors for both societal confinement and protection. 

“Born–Bridalled–Shrouded”, 8’ x 20’ x 30’, Carved Ohio Brick Clay. Photo credit: Artist (left), Bryan Heaton (center and right).

“Born–Bridalled–Shrouded,”—a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, the title of her MFA thesis exhibition, and the title of her first museum solo exhibition—  explores expectations that are often felt or expressed. 

“I grew up in a small town in Illinois. There was the expectation that one would get married and have children. The duality of Dickinson’s words is evocative. ‘Bridal’ also has the connotation of being Bridled like a horse, right? So the word alludes to both married and domesticated. And shrouded can mean a shroud for death, but also to cover or keep from view. And so that idea too was playing into one of my interests, which is how do we tell stories when we don’t have the words for them or we don’t have the language? What do we reveal? What do we keep concealed? And sometimes we can’t tell the story because we don’t have the words or because it’s a secret, or forbidden.”

Just as Elizabeth pushed through artwork boundaries and obstacles, she uses her artwork to challenge cultural roles and traditions. Growing up in a small town, Elizabeth felt expectations to silence her own identity, even at times from herself. Now, she bravely conveys the complexities of personal narratives piece by piece, exposing the concept that with a deeper glance, things are often not as they appear. Viewers are invited to question their own preconceptions. 

We invite you to interact with both Elizabeth and her artwork in the Jan Johansen gallery. See what stories and feelings emerge as you experience her captivating artwork. 

Location: Jan Johansen Gallery (2665 4th Ave, Suite 103A) 

Show Opening: Saturday, August 5 from 2-4 pm. 

Artist Talk: Saturday, August 12, at 1pm. 

Meet and Greet: August 19th from 1-3pm. 

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