Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Social Distancing on Ceramics A new gift to the Reeves Museum of Ceramics documents how one artist is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ceramics-scaled-800x533 Social Distancing on Ceramics“Ten Feet” my Montana potter Beth Lo

Artists are usually keen observers of the world around them, and they often use their work to reflect on the culture, issues and concerns of their time. That is what ceramic artist Beth Lo has done with this dish, part of a group of pieces she made in March 2020 that reflect on the impact of the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus.

Two figures wearing masks, one Asian and one Western, decorate the rectangular dish. The figures are pushed to opposite ends, leaving an empty space in the middle, visually representing the social distancing that has separated so many people over the past few weeks. The title of the work, “Ten Feet,” is written in Chinese, reflecting the calls for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

The distance between the two, their masks, and the vertical black bars also allude to the fear and suspicion that are also separating people at this time. That one figure appears Asian and the other Western also suggests the attempt by some in the West to blame Asians for what they call the “Chinese virus.”

But this separation and fear are tempered by the fact that the figures are children, who for Lo are a symbol of innocence and vulnerability, and of potential for the future. They, and her colorful painting style, give the work a lightness and playfulness that strikes a positive note in what is otherwise a grim and frightening reality.

Lo, who is professor of ceramics at the University of Montana and a former Montana Potter Laureate, is a first-generation Chinese-American. Much of her work concerns issues of marginality, cultural blending and the tension between traditional Asian and modern Western culture. Like many other artists, Lo is not just helping people to deal psychologically with the effects of the pandemic, but is also using her art to make a tangible contribution; she and the gallery that represents her, Lucy Lacoste Gallery, are donating the proceeds of this and other pieces Lo made showing mask-wearing, hand-washing, and sanitizing to a local hospital. According to Lo, “I generally make artwork based on the events going on in my daily life. In this case, the personal is definitely political. Facebook friends gave me the idea to donate proceeds from the sales of these plates, and I was thrilled to think that I could do something to help. I chose to donate to the Emerson Hospital COVID-19 Relief fund in Concord, near Boston, an area much harder hit than my home state, Montana.”

This dish comes as a gift offer from alumnus Hal Higginbotham and his wife Barbra. They are passionate collectors of ceramics, and athough they have not been able to tour galleries in person lately, Hal came across Lo’s work while virtually browsing potter’s websites and galleries online. Recognizing the dish’s value as a document of this difficult period, they bought it for the Reeves.

To see more of the Museums at W&L, including virtual galleries, visit the website.