Meet gwendolyn yoppolo!
Early on, gwendolyn studied critical education theory and earned a BA in Sociology from Haverford College. While at Haverford, inspired by Isaiah Zagar’s installations throughout Philadelphia, she began making tile tabletops and wall hangings. Her entry into clay was in fact born from a desire to make her own tiles to work with, so she took continuing education courses in architectural ceramics at Moore College of Art and Parsons School of Design. With a plan to change the world by empowering learners at a young age, she went on to earn an MA in Elementary Education from Teachers College Columbia University. During that time, she worked as an apprentice under Louise Harter, building and firing a catenary arch wood kiln in Walton, NY. As her hands and energy transformed wood into fuel to fire her pots, she gained a visceral understanding of how heat is built and contained within a kiln. She knew that she had found her life’s passion.
She went on to teach first grade for a few years. During those years, she knew that she loved teaching deeply, but yearned to transfer her pedagogical practice to work with university level students studying ceramics. After a few years, she left teaching in order to work as an unclassified graduate student at SIUE, then a studio technician at EKU, then went on to earn her MFA from Penn State University. From Penn State, she taught for a year at Juniata College, worked as a Temporary Technician at Alfred University, and then worked as an artist in residence at the Archie Bray Foundation, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and Penland School of Crafts. She taught at Ohio University, Ohio State University, and Tyler School of Art before settling in at Kutztown University. She currently lives and works near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and feels grateful every day for the opportunity to grow community and educate the ceramic artists of the future.
You can see more of gwendolyn’s work by visiting her website at gwendolynyoppolo.com.
Why do you keep making artwork?
Making things is a way for me to give form to the formlessness within myself through the intentional transformation of materials. Clay is soft and responsive to touch, and yet it also has a life of its own. I appreciate the relationship I have with my clay body, as I continuously find its limits and learn how to handle it so that it will hold my intentions. My aim is not to achieve total predictability and control, but to be always discovering new mysteries and unexpected effects by handling ceramic raw materials with a balance of scientific knowledge, aesthetic intuition, and a sense of play.
Through making I am responding to the materials and relationships that surround us in our domestic lives, especially in relationship to food culture and its emotional impact on our lives. As I shape clay, I process my sensations of the world and manifest a response that wordlessly communicates my impressions to others. The objects and events I create become a multisensory experience for others, in turn, to respond to in their own ways. I hope that the things that I make can change the ways people perceive themselves and their worlds.
My next piece will always hold a promise unfulfilled until I make it. There is no end, for as soon as I have refined a form and attained some success with it, my ideals change and I must start again. Forms evolve as they manifest. Making things empowers me to fully inhabit my physicality, to be present to my immediate environment, and to fulfill human needs on a personal scale.
Where do you go for inspiration?
For some time, I have turned to microscopy as a source of inspiration. This research actually emerged out of my love for old science textbooks. While in the library at SIUE one day, browsing in the microbiology section, I discovered scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of diatoms. Those images are what initially inspired me to use the SEM myself, later when I was in graduate school. Aesthetically, the diatoms captured my imagination, with their water-softened edges and permeable structures that wavered between geometrical symmetry and organic irregularity.
The allure of the microscope for me is about extending our visual capacity into the infinitely small world we exist within. While our bodies cannot enter into microscopically tiny landscapes, with the help of scientific instruments, our imaginations can. Microscopes offer a portal to an otherwise inaccessible world.
In my original research, along with searching for diatoms on beach rubble I had collected, I was looking at processed foods under the SEM. I then branched out to look at common materials (cotton, scrub pads, etc.), insects, and seeds. I stopped looking at processed foods once I started recognizing bug parts and cotton fibers in the landscape of cereals and crackers. Some things are better not to know, maybe. Most recently, I have started back on the SEM, using it as a tool to study the patterns and chemical composition of crystal growth in glazes. This image is from one of my recent glazes.
You can see a small gallery of my older microscope work here.
Are there any books you are looking at lately you want to share?
Winter is such a great time to read books. Here are the ones I’ve been working my way through lately.