Editor’s note: Listen Up is a Q&A featuring locals in the arts and culture community.
This week: Mel Sundby, a local clay artist whose work is one of over 50 artists featured in the Janet Carson Gallery’s upcoming exhibit, “Holiday Art Fair,” which runs through Dec. 23. An artists’ reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the gallery, 316 Eau Claire St.
What kind of artwork do you primarily create?
I’m generally a sculptor, trained as a bronze caster. I have moved throughout most of the arts. I taught art history and drawing, sculpture for 30 years in St. Paul. I retired about 10 years ago and turned my attention to clay.
Now I run a clay studio, called Manyfires (Art Studio and Farm, 14008 Olson Drive, Fall Creek), where we tend to have a couple of classes every summer.
Most of my work is fired in the process called Raku, which is a Japanese glazing process. I have about 10 pieces, decorative bowls and one sculpture (in the art fair).
How many years have you been involved with the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center?
I was on the (Eau Claire Regional Arts Council) board from about 1993 to 1997. Seeing it resurrected and being relatively successful and then the Confluence coming into play, it’s been an exciting 10 year period. My wife (Sally), is on the board at ECRAC, and we’re both on the arts council. We’ve still got our thumb in it a lot.
What do you enjoy about the “Holiday Art Fair”?
The fact it’s supporting the gallery for one thing. But I think it’s kind of fun to open the exhibit up to so many artists, professional or otherwise in the Chippewa Valley.
Anybody who wants to put stuff in there can submit it.
We sell a lot over a period of a month and a half in that gallery.
Do you feature your work in exhibits frequently?
Not so much anymore. I do in the Janet Carson Gallery, and had one in Stillwater (Minn.) for awhile. I’m still looking in places like Milwaukee and Madison to find a gallery I can show my work in.
Will you be at the art fair’s opening reception?
Absolutely, we always come because it’s a good opportunity to touch base with artists we haven’t seen in awhile. We keep in touch with them but don’t necessarily see them. It’s always fun.
How does this show compare to other exhibits in the area?
It’s pretty inclusive. This show is a tradition, basically. It’s been going since I’ve been in town (around 25 years ago).
It’s aimed basically at people who would like some original artwork and don’t want to spend a ton of money on things that, in some cases, they may not understand.
It’s aimed at the general public rather than some of the other bigger art fairs are, which is a good thing.
I think it’s one of the major ones at Christmastime. It has picked up and gets better every year.
There’s serious art there, some people who make a living showing stuff in there, and then there’s a lot of crafters who work in their spare bedroom and do quite well, too.
Sally and I are very much behind it. We participate every year and I’m happy we can.
How would you describe the pieces you have in the show?
I think they’re whimsical and lyrical. Some are face tiles, pieces that can hang on the wall, either in groupings or individually.
I’ve got a couple three-dimensional pieces. They have a tendency to move toward a lyrical feeling.
That’s the fun part of it because people have to interpret the pieces.
I used to show at renaissance fairs and people would ask, ‘Where do you get all your ideas?’
I would look at them over the top of my glasses and say, ‘I’m looking at them.’ People would always then get really shy, self conscious they would turn up as a clay piece on the table.
The key is to keep it fun, and that’s what I mean about lyrical. I’ve done serious pieces too, but those don’t tend to hit the mark like the fun ones do.
Would you like to say anything else?
I’m very excited about the arts community in this town. There’s a lot of good things happening, and it isn’t just in visuals. Last year we got a writers council working and a lot of people have taken writers workshops in the area, and the jazz program at the university is great.
It’s the music and the literature, the theater. I’m tickled to be involved in that circle, there’s some very cool people who it supports and on the administration end of it. It takes a sacrifice on peoples’ parts to go to meetings and make decisions.
And I think a lot of people are self conscious if they don’t know anything about art they want to stay naive about it and they shouldn’t be because it’s great fun when you get involved in it.
I used to tell my art history class that visual arts especially are a record of man’s psyche.It’s a record of man’s behavior.
— Katy Macek