Four History of Art Students on curating The Art of Clay at the RBSA

The Young Curators: Alice Watkins, Olivia Weightman, Hannah Lawson, Polly Adams-Felton
The Young Curators: Alice Watkins, Olivia Weightman, Hannah Lawson, Polly Adams-Felton

The RBSA’s Young Curators’ project gives young people a fantastic opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the process of putting on an exhibition. In October 2012 the four of us were chosen to curate a show of studio ceramics. With guidance from RBSA staff and ceramics specialist David Whiting, we have worked really hard to create The Art of Clay (24 April to 4 May 2013).

Hannah, Polly and Alice installing exhibition
Hannah, Polly and Alice installing exhibition
Olivia and Hannah during a research trip with David Whiting to Oxford ceramics Gallery

Through our exhibition, we aim to show the range of ceramics being created in Britain and to expand perceived notions of clay as an art medium. We selected pieces to represent four categories in clay; abstract, figurative, vessel-based and purely functional ceramics. Within these themes, each artist we chose deals with clay in a variety of styles, technique and subject matter. The pieces embody the diversity of ceramic work that artists are able to create using clay, and are made by a range of exhibitors, many of whom have international reputations, while others are still establishing names for themselves.

Polly unpacking a delivery of ceramics by Nic Collins
'Bull' by Emma Rogers
‘Bull’ by Emma Rogers

We made our initial selection after an intense period of research into the medium, and we consulted catalogues, books and websites. We also made use of the contacts passed on to us by David Whiting and the RBSA. After composing our request letters to the artists, writing about the Young Curators’ project and the aims of the exhibition, we were pleased that we had successful responses from almost all of those invited. From this group we refined our selection, choosing the exact number and type of works we wished to exhibit within the space available. We were also involved in the installation, interpretation and marketing of the show – we even arranged delivery dates, wrote catalogue essays and made a press release!

Ceramic forms by James Robson and ceramic panels by Michelle Arieu
Ceramic forms by James Robson and ceramic panels by Michelle Arieu

The Art of Clay has taken a lot of planning and preparation alongside our academic studies. We had no previous experience of ceramics – our academic course being focused on the fine arts – and  so we found the project to be a steep learning curve…! However, it has provided us with insights into ceramics, the structure of an art gallery, how to deliver an exhibition and the business elements of the art world. We have gained a great deal of work experience and hope visitors feel that we have created an interesting and high-quality show.

For more information, visit the Art of Clay website:

We would like to express our sincerest thanks to RBSA staff for their guidance, patience and commitment to the project, particularly Natalie Osborne, Learning and Project Coordinator (and a former History of Art student at the University of Birmingham). Additional thanks are also in order for David Whiting for his expertise and guidance, and to all of the artists for their support for the project. We are also very grateful to the Behrens Foundation, the John Feeney Charitable Trust, and donors to the Directors Appeal. Without their funding this project would not have been possible.

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