Married in Clay: The Pennsylvania Years

January 4 - March 29
Public Reception: Saturday, March 17, 2-4 pm
Kirk Mangus and Eva Kwong

It is not infrequent that artists marry each other, as the people they tend to meet are sharing their studies, attending gallery openings, or participating in the same professional art associations.  Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot are a few such famous examples. Perhaps it is no surprise then that the internationally recognized ceramicists, Kirk Mangus (1952-2013) and Eva Kwong (1954- ), forged their bond as undergrads at the Rhode Island School of Design in the mid-1970s.  Like Kirk’s own parents, Chick and Nizza Mangus, both already shared a love of clay. It eventually extended to each other.

Kirk Mangus.jpg

Arts & Education at the Hoyt’s newest exhibit Married in Clay: The Pennsylvania Years, January 4-March 29, offers a window into the relationship of two distinct bodies of work built from locally harvested clay. While their styles differ greatly, Mangus and Kwong remained partners and collaborators throughout their marriage sharing studio space, materials and ideas in his rural boyhood home in Mercer, PA. The featured work isn’t what you might typically view from Mangus or Kwong on Google. But it is, nonetheless, representative of the transition each individual artist was making while building his/her own career.

Mangus’ parents had encouraged a love of art early on, introducing him Toshiko Takaezu, his father’s mentor, and sending him to study at Penland School of Crafts. Mangus remained friends with Takaezu throughout her life,  firing her work in his Anagama kilns in Pennsylvania and Ohio over the years.   Following Rhode Island, Mangus spent two years as a resident at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia while Kwong earned her MFA from Tyler University, then moved on to Washington State University in Pullman to earn his own MFA.  Following the receipt of several fellowships, Mangus became Head of the Ceramics Department at Kent State University in 1985 and remained so until his death in 2013.

Eva Kwong.jpg

His prolific output of ceramics and drawings drew on a multitude of influences, from comics to prehistoric animal figures, modernist abstraction, Japanese woodblock prints, and folk, Meso-American, and Asian ceramic traditions. He sought to renegotiate concepts of beauty, proposing an unguarded way of thinking and making. He is known for his playful, gestural style; roughhewn forms; heavily incised surfaces; and experimental glazing. Painter Douglas Max Utter later referred to them as “strange and wonderful ceramic vessels” that were “unapologetically clumsy, gorgeously physical” and “imbued with a sense of life and humor.”

Like her husband, Kwong received several fellowships upon graduating from Rhode Island, including a number from PA and OH arts councils and one from the National Endowment for the Art. She conducted a number of residencies and held many teaching positions while building her own exhibition record, including Head of the Ceramics Department at the University of Akron and art professor alongside Mangus at Kent State University.

Kwong, however, was born in urban Hong Kong and spent her teen years growing up in New York City.  She often referred to herself as a hybrid of Eastern and Western influences, looking at the world through the lens of both cultures while applying the philosophy of her traditional Chinese upbringing to her work.  The underlying energy of all life forces, or yin and yang, are opposing but complementary forces that are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world.  Kwong’s work often centers on the juxtaposition of opposites, albeit mass/space, land/air, solid/hollow, or male/female forms. 

In contrast to Mangus, Kwong’s work is soft and sensuous, voluptuous in form.  Both large and small scale work is inspired by organic forms and colors observed from nature. Simple shapes and smooth surfaces emphasize subtle glazes or colorful decoration. Although most of the featured work bears earth tones. The references to natural forms began when Kwong was a work-study student in the Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. The shapes, colors, patterns, structures, and principles of the human body and other organisms generated a visual vocabulary she still credits for informing her work today.