Thanks to a new partnership between the University of Lethbridge and Medalta Potteries in Medicine Hat, third-year Art students now have the opportunity to apply for a one-month intensive ceramics residency. The first recipient of the Faculty of Fine Arts Medalta Residency, Grace Wirzba, spent the month of May in the 150-acre Historic Clay District.
This was the fourth year that Medalta has hosted undergrad students as part of the International Artists in Residence Program. The program provides opportunity for students from various institutions to spend a month in an immersive residency environment to create a much broader dialogue amongst ceramic programs across Canada. Medalta provides the studio experience including 24-hour access, a 20-square metre personal studio, facilitated access to the entire Historic Clay District site, firings, use of shop glazes and possible exhibition opportunities in their on-site contemporary art galleries. The University of Lethbridge provided a $1,000 stipend for travel and living expenses.
The residency is open to a third-year student returning to their studies in the fall. Wirzba became the lucky first recipient by being in the right place at the right time.
“I heard Jenna Stanton (Medalta curator) talk in Art Now about two years ago and she talked about Medalta,” says Wirzba. “I thought it was really cool, so I just sat on that idea, and then last year I was introduced to Jenna again. I told her I was interested in Medalta and had heard a lot about the residencies. (Art faculty) Annie Martin got the ball rolling on the opportunity for the U of L. I think they were already working on getting it started so when a student showed interest they were thrilled!’”
In the future, the residency will involve an application process for students. The residencies are in high demand, so while it may not be an annual opportunity, the University of Lethbridge will accept any chance they get to send a student.
“I was really lucky to just be a keener that showed interest,” admits Wirzba. “I was super lucky!”
Wirzba was somewhat nervous leading up to the residency as ceramics are not a primary area of her art practice, and others were coming from institutions with specific ceramics programs and experience.
“Coming in green to the technical components of ceramics influenced my experience immensely,” shares Wirzba. “I think it made for a very positive experience. Learning from my fellow undergrad residents, as well as long-term residents at the Shaw Centre was extremely rewarding and incredibly fun. It was a constant learning curve and my knowledge on the subject grew about 300 percent by the end of May, though I’ve only still brushed the surface of what there is to know in ceramics.”
“One of the most important aspects of the residency was forming connections with my peers in universities and colleges across the country, as well as internationally exhibiting artists. Being able to have conversation and create discourse on contemporary ceramics and art at an undergraduate level with these peers was valuable and so important for me.”
Wirzba focused on simple sculptural forms and glaze mixing and application.
“Most of my work was hand built mid-fire sculpture that I worked with in an installation context,” continues Wirzba. “At the end of the residency, the five undergrads put together a small pop up exhibition in the ‘bone yard’ behind Medalta. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of installing my new ceramic pieces on this site. Site specific installation is exactly what I am interested in at the moment and it was an incredibly rewarding opportunity to get to install work in this unique and challenging location.”
Wirzba will be displaying her ceramic creations on the 8th level exhibition wall in the University Centre for the Arts from August 28 through September 8. Check it out during the University’s 50th Anniversary Homecoming events on the September long weekend. Register for a Fine Arts Facility tour at uleth.ca/homecoming.