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Claire McCauley’s ‘Projections & Reflections’

Exhibition delivers on whimsy and sophistication

Constructed in 1926, the Historic Seaboard Freight Train Depot, home of the Morean Center for Clay, has hosted colorful characters and creative spirits for almost 100 years. Ceramist and storyteller Claire McCauley, an artist-in-residence at the Center, is the first to fantastically bring this spirit of creative imagination to life on pots, bowls, cups and peeking from behind “shelves. Her solo exhibition ‘Projections and Reflections’ opens July 10 during the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance Second Saturday Artwalk from 5 to 7:30 pm.

Visitors are greeted with a series of whimsical characters dancing across a clay column spinning on a functioning potter’s wheel.  The animated illustrations are familiar components of McCauley’s intricate and signature story-telling work and carry the audience on adventures through sea, space and imaginary ‘other-worlds.’ Ranging from endearing and whimsical to cautionary and the occasional boogeyman, McCauley is expert at sculpting and illustrating in a way that breathes life, humor, and courage into her cast of adventurers.

“Using characters I create narratives that are the reactions I have to loss, the desire for connection, and the search for more,” explains McCauley.  My hope is that the functional work I make is used by their owners, and the tales have a chance to live and exist in everyday life, rather than in a closed book where it may be forgotten.”

Delicate porcelain miniature environments and massive clay forms seem to pulse with energy and visitors will be challenged to listen carefully.  Was that the sound of a whispered chortle from one of McCauley’s cave dwellers or the simple movement of chilled air moving cobwebs on the gallery’s ancient wood timbers, exposed brick and original freight doors? Creating a sense of total immersion in the worlds of her imagination, McCauley transferred her illustrated narrative to the shelfs and walls temporarily showcasing her work too.

“I was heavily influenced by my grandmother and her Fabergé eggs she would make,” says McCauley. “I was captivated by the details, and always imagined myself inside them. From that early influence I have always seen the figures that appear in my stories as a reflection of myself, my mental state, and the internal battles I am sorting through. With my background in illustration I enjoy making busy and highly illustrated work that invites the viewer in. I believe that in those moments, you and I truly connect, and that is a precious thing in a world that is so disjointed,” added McCauley.

Beyond her fine art accomplishments, McCauley is an art teacher, adored by the children she prefers to teach. “I enjoy their unleashed imaginations,” said McCauley. McCauley, a native to the midwest, grew up as one of five siblings. She found her voice in the visual arts and pursued a BFA in Illustration from Northern Illinois University. Following graduation, she spent several years in Chicago at Lillstreet Art Center. Her work is heavily influenced by the time spent studying illustrative storytelling and the natural world. Her two-year residency allowed her to explore life on in and around the ocean and mangroves of Tampa Bay. She is captivated by life in St. Petersburg and plans to settle in for another year at the Morean.

Her work will be on view in the front gallery of the Morean Center for Clay at 420 22nd Street South, St. Petersburg, free and open to the public, Wednesdays thru Saturdays from 12 noon to 5 pm.