Embodied Forms: Donna Polseno and Ellen Shankin

Donna Polseno and Ellen Shankin ceramics exhibition

Left: Ellen Shankin, Bottle 2017, stoneware clay, 12 x 6 x 2 1/2  inches
Right: Donna Polseno, White Crane, 2017, mid-range porcelain, 10 x 4 1/2 x 1 1/2  inches


February 27–April 8, 2018
Artists' Lecture: Tues. Feb 27, 4:30-5:30 PM, LPAC Cinema
List Gallery Reception follows: 5:30-7 PM

Please enjoy a copy of the exhibition catalog, Embodied Forms.

The Department of Art and Art History, Swarthmore College is pleased to honor Donna Polseno and Ellen Shankin as the 2018 Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artists and Lecturers. In conjunction with this award, the List Gallery will present Embodied Forms: Donna Polseno and Ellen Shankin, an exhibition highlighting more than 30 recent works by the artists that reflect their shared affinities and inspirations. Although they model contrasting approaches to building and embellishing forms, both Polseno and Shankin create works that are notable for their architectonic presence, rich surface textures, and allusions to natural forms. 


The exhibition will take place February 27–April 8, 2018. The artists will give a joint lecture about their respective careers on Tuesday, February 27, 4:30–5:30 p.m. in the Lang Performing Arts Center Cinema. The List Gallery reception will follow 5:30–7:00 p.m. An illustrated color catalog featuring essays by exhibition curator Andrea Packard and the preeminent ceramic artist Wayne Higby accompanies the exhibition. These free and public events have been made possible by the Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artist's Fund and the Department of Art, Swarthmore College.


Donna Polseno and Ellen Shankin met in 1977 and their friendship has catalyzed their art. The have both lived and worked for nearly four decades in Floyd County, Virginia, where they continue to take inspiration from the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. In Floyd they have established a close-knit community of artists and artisans who include Shankin's husband, Brad Warstler, a woodworker, and Polseno's husband, Richard Hensley, a ceramic artist. Both Shankin and Polseno have also found community and inspiration through teaching, mentoring apprentices, participating in artist residencies, and regular travel, particularly to work and teach in Tuscany, Italy. Pursuing their individual visions within the context of interconnected creative communities, they have each sustained evolving careers and garnered international recognition. Their contrasting methods offer opportunities for viewers to study the qualities intrinsic to their individual approaches as well as those aspects that make each artist's work distinctly personal. As Shankin has stated, Embodied Forms "provides an opportunity to see the varied expression of what arises from common ground: the clay, the landscape, and lives lived in intimate proximity."


Ellen Shankin was born in 1952 in New York City. She studied at Goddard College and Rhode Island School of Design before receiving a BFA with honors from the New York State School of Ceramics at Alfred, New York in 1977. Her awards include a 1990 National Endowment Visual Arts Fellowship and a 2001 Virginia Museum Grant. She has exhibited her work in more than 150 exhibitions nationally including A Culture of Pots at the Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN; From this Earth: Ceramic Arts of Virginia at the Ports- mouth Museum, Portsmouth, VA; Pots with Purpose at the Ohio Craft Museum, Columbus, Ohio; and An Accessible Art at Alfred University, which she co-curated at the invitation of Val Cushing to commemorate his retirement. Her works have also been exhibited at Adnan Franko Sanat Galerisi in Izmir, Turkey and Kjarvalssta- dir, Reykjavik Art Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland. Since 1992, she has been a guest lecturer and instructor at more than 50 universities, art centers, and leading craft schools in the United States and abroad, including Certaldo Italy; Santiago, Chile; and Victoria, British Columbia. Her works are in the collections of numerous mu- seums, including the International Museum of Ceramics at Alfred, Alfred, NY; The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC; The Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA; the Sidney Swiddler Collection of the Contemporary Vessel at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; and the San Angelo Museum of Art, San Angelo, TX. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, including Studio Potter, Ceramics Monthly, and American Craft. Her pottery has also been featured in 15 notable surveys of ceramic art, including The Ceramic Design Book, by Val Cushing; Functional Pottery, by Robin Hopper, and The Art of Contemporary American Pottery, by Kevin Hluch. Shankin is a founding member of 16 Hands, a regional craft tour.


Donna Polseno was born in 1950 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She received a BFA in 1972 from Kansas City Art Institute, where she studied with Ken Ferguson. She studied informally with Wayne Higby before receiving a MAT from Rhode Island School of Design in 1974. Her awards include two National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowships (1986 and 1978) and a Virginia Museum Artist’s Grant (1984). In addition, she has been awarded numerous artist residencies at leading institutions, including the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, Helena, MT; Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey; and the Jingdezhen Institute for Ceramics, Jingdezhen, China. She has exhibited her work in group exhibitions at museums and other distinguished venues throughout the United States, including the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; the Renwick Gallery, Washington DC; the California Museum of Art, Santa Rosa, CA; the Kennedy Museum of Art, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio; and the Taubman Museum, Roanoke, Virginia. In 2008, she was invited to participate in Concreta-Sculpture Ceramiche at Palazzo Pretorio in Certaldo, Italy. Polseno has taught ceramics at the University of Michigan, Alfred University, and Ohio State University, as well as at leading craft schools throughout the United States, including Penland School of Crafts, Bakersfield, NC; Anderson Rach, Snowmass Village, CO; Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinsburg, TN; and Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts, Deer Isle, ME. She currently teaches part-time at Hollins University, where she conceived of and directs Women Working in Clay, an annual symposium. Every summer since 2007, she has also taught at La Meridiana School of Ceramics in Certaldo, Italy. Her work has been written about in dozens of articles, in publications such as Ceramics Monthly, The Studio Potter, The Art of American Contemporary Pottery, American Crafts, Sculptural Ceramics, and the New York Times. Her work is held in distinguished collections, including the American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, California; The Joan Mannheimer Collection, Iowa, The St. Louis Museum of Art and Kansas City Art Institute, both in Missouri; and the Mint Museum of Contemporary Crafts, Charlotte, North Carolina.