Artist and Apprentice Mentor Each Other

After Birmingham artist Amy Pleasant was awarded a prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant in 2015 for “unrestricted career support,” she knew she would need an assistant to help her carry off some of her plans, which included creating with ceramics. Pleasant needed to find someone who could guide her in exploring a medium with which she had little experience, and who was also interested in learning from a working artist like Pleasant. Ceramics graduate student Sydney Ewerth fit all of those requirements.

Sydney Ewerth, beginning her third year in the MFA program in ceramics at UA, has been working in the medium since her undergraduate days at Augusta University (formerly Georgia Regents University) where she received the BFA. Ewerth’s ceramic work has been selected for numerous juried exhibitions and she was accepted to an Oxbow residency this summer. Her ceramics professor recommended her for the challenge.

The fellowship will give Pleasant the freedom to push her work in directions she would not have been able to go otherwise, without financial support. Pleasant received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from The Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA.

She has held solo exhibitions at Jeff Bailey Gallery, NY, whitespace gallery, Atlanta, GA, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, The Birmingham Museum of Art, Atlanta Contemporary, CANDYLAND, Stockholm, Sweden, The Packing Plant, Nashville, The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Auburn University’s School of Liberal Arts.

Her work has been included in group exhibitions at venues such as The Knoxville Museum of Art, The Hunter Museum of American Art, The Weatherspoon Museum of Art, The Columbus Museum of Art, The Wiregrass Museum of Art, The National Museum for Women in the Arts, The Mobile Museum of Art, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, The Huntsville Museum of Art, Clifford Chance, and The U.S. Embassy, Prague, Czech Republic.

Pleasant is at the six-month point now. Already completed a project of works on paper, now this project with Ewerth’s help, her plans and drawings are beginning to take the shape of stylized flat ceramic pieces a little reminiscent of Henry Moore’s sculptures. They are heads, torsos, and other simple shaped that will later be grouped into an installation. Meanwhile another project involves combining wood and ceramic pieces she has already completed? These pieces might be more than one project, but she won’t know until she gets them finished and can put them together. She’s always been interested in flatness.

Pleasant reveals an adventurous spirit: “I’ve always had a tendency to want to go into things I don’t know anything about and use materials I can’t quite control.” And Ewerth is willing to let go of some control of the medium. She chimed in that these are often “happy accidents.”

You are “failing and failing and failing until you figure it out,” Pleasant smiled. “Clay and me is a partnership. It’s a problem solving process — trial and error.”

Working in ceramics is very different from working on paper. It’s a longer process. “You have to think in a timeline.” And things blow up in the kiln or don’t work like you thought they would.

Although Pleasant is older and has worked longer in the art world than Ewerth, the dynamic between them is very easy, open and equal. Ewerth has her own depth of experience that she brings to their work times, not only in how to handle the medium of clay itself, but also in using glazes, how to fire the work and in planning how to get the work done over time. Creating work in ceramics can be a much longer drawn out process, compared to relatively short times of working with paper.

Sydney Ewerth’s website:
Amy Pleasant’s website: