Turkey Feast Settles Cracks in the Ceramic Psyche

The Art and Design building is open 24-7 because you just never know when art will happen. Art students are in there all the time. That’s why 34 years ago they started Turkey Feast — to give thanks for art, and to blow off a little steam because long hours can bring up some interpersonal tensions.

“We hold it every November, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving,” said Matt Wilt, associate professor of art and design. “Close to Thanksgiving, we’ve been going all of September, all of October, most of November… our students tend to put in a lot of hours. You’re always here, firing kilns in our case, and it can start to wear you down by the end of the semester. It’s a chance to celebrate that we’re all here involved in the same kind of struggle – making artwork. Plus with the visiting artist it’s a big deal.”

The week ends with a potluck where students show off artistically crafted food for a competition, but during the days leading up to the potluck a visiting artist meets with ceramic students to go over technique. This year’s visiting artist is Susan Beiner, a professor of art from Arizona State University, Tempe.

Visiting artist Susan Beiner judges a turkey

“I came on Wednesday night and started to set up a studio. Thursday morning I set up a demonstration for a lot of SIUE students of all levels,” Beiner said. “I build the piece like I would my own work – to show the students how I work and what I work with. It gives them an understanding of the technical aspect of what I do. Then last night I gave a lecture on my work. This morning I finished the piece I was working on, gave critiques to some of the graduate students and BFA’s. I enjoy it.”

Because she knew she would be judging food turned into art at the end of the week Beiner, who specializes in ceramics that have crusty look, molded a ceramic turkey that demonstrates her style.

“My work is very encrusted,” she said. “It looks like this crusty stuff of skin. I made some molds from a chicken because I couldn’t find a turkey, made chicken drumsticks out of clay, then attached everything together and then encrusted the whole thing.”

Beiner is invited to other universities as a guest artist, an expensive and important practice at most universities. She says the Turkey Feast is particularly good because it has a history – she’s the 34th visiting artist. The real take-away is that students who have aspirations in ceramics get to talk with another professional ceramic artist, to learn about the work they do both aesthetically and technically.

First place in the food judging went to BFA student Will Rimel. He made a sea serpent out of stuffing and was awarded $75 for his effort.

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