Arts & Sciences News

Beyond the clay door

June 17, 2009

By: Tessa Shockey

There are two blown-up snapshots on the wall above the cupboard. One is of a younger

Paul McCoy, Baylor's Ceramist-in-Residence and professor of art, taken for an exhibition. The other is of former San Antonio ceramist Harding Black, whose work was critical to 20th-century ceramics.

McCoy is the curator of Baylor's Harding Black Ceramic Archive, which includes a large collection of Black's pottery and his entire body of glaze research, considered by many to be the largest body of personal glaze research executed in the United States during the 20th century.

The dress code is casual. Jeans and a T-shirt are a practicality when working with ceramics. This is exactly how you will find Paul McCoy. Casual would not be the word, however, to describe his intricate and historically based works.

His position as Ceramist-in-Residence gives him more freedom to pursue individual projects for exhibitions and gives Baylor added recognition. The past few years he has been developing a personal collection that follows the theme of vessels used throughout history in ritual-based activities.

"This current body of artwork, which includes forms such as baptismal fonts, funerary urns, harvest vessels, sacrificial and offering vessels, has developed in response to my lifelong obsession with the relationship of life and death, the juxtaposition of the physical moment with the eternal," McCoy says. "It is informed by over three decades of study of the manner in which various cultures, both indigenous and industrial, interpret and reconcile this relationship."

Through investigating "primitive" cultures, McCoy says he has discovered parallels between the belief structures and systems of ancient and present Western civilizations. These parallels are highlighted in his present collection. "These are essentially vessels, but they are constructed and resolved in a way that is very sculptural," McCoy says. "They've been very well received at the professional level. I am excited because it is a body of work that keeps developing."

McCoy has pieces on display in museums and universities in diverse locations around the United States, England, Argentina, Tasmania, the Netherlands, China, Korea, Thailand, Japan, the Czech Republic and Bermuda. Pieces from the collection of ritual vessels are included in some of the more recent exhibits. Other exhibits are of functional and sculptural ceramics, from serving platters to pure sculpture.

"I believe that what truly separates my work from that of other ceramists is the manner in which I touch and resolve my forms. Forty-two years of working with clay has resulted in a visual vocabulary which is unique to me, as one's signature is unique to the individual," McCoy says.

As part of the preparation process, McCoy conducts research on the customs, creation myths and ritual-based artwork from worldwide indigenous cultures. "In each piece I attempt to integrate human activity and the forces of nature," McCoy says. "Art does not exist as a separate and isolated entity within culture. It is, by definition, a defining manifestation of the culture from which it originates." Most of his work is conducted on the potter's wheel, although alterations to symmetry and surfaces are made with various tools.

McCoy has taught at Baylor for 20 years and before that for a number of years in high schools. "At its best, I am able to come away from my professional work with a sense of awe, amazement, humility and excitement with regard to the possibilities it suggests," McCoy says. These emotions are what he strives to bring to each class period. "My general perspective is that all humans by definition are creative individuals. My job as a teacher is to nurture that creativity. In order to do that for a lot of students, you have to expose them to their creativity, you've got to help them see that it actually exists within them," McCoy says.