Mary Rhein – Red Lodge Clay Center

Mary RheinBelleville, Illinois

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Red Lodge Clay Center – Short-Term Resident (ASPN) 2022

Mary Rhein was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois; a town about 15 miles outside of St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up surrounded by the love and support of her large family, her being the fourth of five children.

Mary attended Southwestern Illinois College, SWIC, intending to get a two-year degree to transfer to a university. This two-year degree turned into a six-year degree with some financial hardships, but she attained her Associates of Art and transferred as a non-traditional student to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). Mary graduated with her BFA in ceramics and a minor in psychology. She is currently a post-bacc at SIUE, continuing to study under her mentor, prolific ceramic artist, Joe Page. Over the last two years, Mary has worked as Professor Page’s studio assistant. She assists in making his slip cast work, molds, and has assisted in installing two iterations of his installation work, Flow Chart. Working closely with Professor Page has given her the opportunity to delve into complex mold making and the creation of her own installation work. Since 2019, she has been juried into multiple national shows and has earned awards for her slip cast work.

The process and technical nature of mold making is the driving force of her creating, but so is her pathology. She finds solace in process and lives for the state of flow that goes hand in hand with repetition. In this flow, she makes complex mold systems from wheel thrown prototypes. She then casts, refines, and water-etches small batches of work that are functional yet highly conceptual. The concepts she explores link her own struggles with anxiety, how dreams and reality can coexist, and the tension between enchantment and repulsion. She refers to her work as playfully macabre.

Mary is active in student organizations such as the Wagner Potters’ Association, Sculptors at Wagner, and Print Council.

Through excessiveness and exaggeration, I turn an ordinary object into an uncanny oddity. The work originates from feelings of uneasiness and intrigue. As a student of both ceramics and psychology, my work depicts the feeling of being overwhelmed. The imagery of teeth is significant to me. While I sleep, my anxiety manifests physically as a tightly clenched jaw, the grinding and chattering of my teeth, and dreams of my teeth breaking and falling out. This dish set is enchanting yet repulsive. The plate, cup, and bowl share elegant form and appeal, but their rims and feet are covered with teeth. They chatter and grind against the surface upon which they rest. There is an element of seduction about these functional objects. They are yearning for the warmth of the human touch, a wide open-mouth kiss when brought to one’s lips, but will they bite back? I refer to this work as playfully macabre.

During the pandemic, like so many others, I was tucked away inside my home and isolated. This amplified my anxiety and my dreams became more vivid and alarming. I dreamt of amorphous forms seeping from the walls, enveloping parts of the home I once recognized; my teeth would shatter when I attempted to call out for help, only to wake up in a cold sweat.

My installation, Fever Dream, explores the relationship between comfort and torment. Home is a place of comfort and warmth, now taken over by malignant nebulous forms, turning everything frigid. Silhouettes of common household furniture adorn the space. These call out to the absence of their physical presence; a void that is unfulfilled, a nightmare. The many clocks on the wall and the amplification of their ticking speaks to constant worry.

The delicate and ornate ceramic work generates a tension between the grotesque and the beautiful. The dinnerware is ornamented with golden teeth and gruesome water etched roots, set against the formal elegance of the objects themselves. They are then finished with a dichromatic neodymium glaze which changes color depending on the light source and softens its presence; itself a metaphor for dreaming and waking. The addition of gold luster enhances and elevates the work that could otherwise make one cringe.