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Ceramic art of Mateer and Kerns to be featured at CCAC in June

  • The ceramic art James Kerns (pictured) and William Mateer will be featured at the CCAC during the month of June. (Photo submitted.)

  • The ceramic art of William Mateer (pictured) and James Kerns will be featured at the CCAC during the month of June. (Photo submitted.)

  • The ceramic art James Kerns (pictured) and William Mateer will be featured at the CCAC during the month of June. (Photo submitted.)

  • The ceramic art of William Mateer (Mateer’s pottery pictured) and James Kerns will be featured at the CCAC during the month of June. (Photo submitted.)

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

From fabrics to paintings, from poetry to ceramics, the Charles City Arts Center is covering the spectrum of art this season.

The featured artists for the month of June will be Bill Mateer and Jim Kerns, who have both had careers for more than 50 years as ceramic potters. The two began their artistic journey as lab partners as students at the University of Northern Iowa.

Their art will be on exhibit through the month of June, with the display entitled “From This Comes This, Pottery by James Kerns and William Mateer.” There will be a reception for Kerns and Mateer on Friday, June 7, starting at 5 p.m.

The pottery art will follow the May exhibit, which has been the fabric and quilt art of Mary Nordeng. Earlier this year the CCAC featured paintings and mixed-media art by Autumn-Rosario Hall. A variety of artwork by Charles City High School students was the featured in April. The CCAC also hosted its first-ever poetry night earlier this month.

Mateer graduated from UNI in 1970 with a degree in art education, with an emphasis in ceramics. Kerns graduated in 1971, with degrees in ceramics, physics and teaching, with post-graduate work in ceramics after that. The two participated in their first art festival together while students in 1968.

As part of his philosophy, Kerns said he creates “functional work” and “non-functional work.”

“I believe we have too few family rituals in our society,” he said. “One of the few we do have is the preparation and sharing of food. Using high-quality, hand-made items greatly enhances the quality of these experiences. I strive to make high-quality items which are affordable.”

He divides his non-functional work into two categories. He said he creates work that is “interesting aesthetically.” These are classical shapes for 6-30 inches in height.

“As I’ve gotten older, the larger pieces are far fewer,” he said.

His work has glazes which fit the forms and use the color in a thoughtful manner, he said. They include carving in geometric patterns and brushwork where it seems appropriate, and handles dependent on the form.

“The second category for my non-functional work are pieces which attempt to carry a societal comment,” Kerns said. “These pieces may or may not be aesthetically pleasing. They are meant to carry a message. I struggle to say what I am feeling, and I continue to challenge myself to put my anger and frustration into my clay.”

Kerns taught ceramics at UNI from 1987-1992. He worked for 41 years for John Deere before doing consulting work. Mateer teaches ceramics at North Iowa Area Community college. He has farmed and had a studio near Sheffield since 1973. He served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, working with woman potters in the early 1970s.

At one time Mateer and Kerns wholesaled to several galleries, the most prestigious being “The Potter’s Wheel” in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, and “The Artisan’s Gallery” in Iowa City. The two potters are represented by very few galleries at this stage in their clay life.

“Really, one gallery, the Maring/Miller Gallery in the Amana Colonies,” Kerns said. “These people are old friends. Rather we participate in art festivals. We are fortunate that we do not need to pursue sales as we once did.”

The two exhibit their work at more than 50 shows, exhibitions, galleries and collections throughout the Midwest.

Kerns likes to sum up his work with ceramics through another type of art form — poetry. Or more specifically, a limerick.

“In college I was exhausted and frustrated by the ongoing discussion on what is art and what is craft,” Kerns said. “This frustration is evident in my artist statement:

The process for making of urns
Clay wet, clay drys, clay burns
Is it art? Is it not?
Is it only a pot?
You be the judge — Jim Kerns.”

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