Returning clay to nature


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As picturesque as a coral reef, Elizabeth Shriver’s art, displayed in the Chait Galleries, 218 E. Washington St., aims to pay homage to the free-flowing structures of nature.

“I’m trying to achieve something that’s beautiful and lifelike and yet not actually replicating nature,” she said. “I want it to be something different but that evokes that feeling of something growing.”

Shriver is a ceramics artist. But instead of using a pottery wheel, the Iowa native prefers to craft her pieces out of clay slabs and coils.

“I do a lot of building with slabs,” she said. “Which is basically just a flat piece of clay that you can cut into any shape you want.”

A selection of Shriver’s pieces wrapped up their display in the Chait Galleries today. Emily Wolfe, a gallery attendant, said Shriver’s 3D pieces stand out from the rest of the gallery’s visual array.

“We don’t carry a lot of ceramic work, so she has that corner in the market,” Wolfe said. “Her pieces are very organic and natural. We usually just have 2D work, so having some 3D sculptures is a nice addition to round out the artwork that we have.”

Shriver did not expect to become a ceramics artist growing up.

“[Art] was something I always knew I wanted to do,” she said. “I didn’t know I would end up doing ceramics; that was a surprise.”

Her discovery of the medium happened while attending the University of Iowa in the 1980s.

“I was majoring in psychology, but I was taking art classes,” she said. “I’d taken some drawing, painting, and I just decided to try ceramics.”

She also credits her instructor for spurring her passion in the medium. 

“I had a really good instructor. She was inspiring, and I just found I loved it,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep at night because I had images of things I wanted to make.”

Today, Shriver spends her time working on sculpture, which can be an intensive process. A piece titled Coral Bouquet took her around 40 hours to complete, which, Shriver said, she labored on five to six hours a day to the point the sculpture was so massive that it could barely be squeezed in her kiln.

For all artists and aspiring artists, Shriver has a piece of advice.

“It’s kind of a cliché, but get a day job if you can because you’re free to do what you want with your art, rather than having to do some bread and butter work,” she said. “But it helps to just be flexible with your work. And don’t give up.”

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