New ceramics exhibit celebrates career, legacy of retiring professor

Friday, Nov. 19, the opening of the “Heart in my Hands: Ron Gallas and Friends” art exhibit took place in the Flaten Art Museum located in Dittman Hall. Professor Ron Gallas has recently announced his retirement, and the exhibit was opened to honor his history in the field of ceramics as well as his contributions to St. Olaf College.

The opening was packed, bustling with people eager to both look at the pieces included in the show as well as to hear Gallas and a few of his colleagues speak on a panel at the end of the night. Attendees included members of the Northfield community and St. Olaf students as well as many of Gallas’ personal colleagues and supporters.

“These people are Ron’s former professors, teachers, buddies from graduate school, students, mentors and most of all, friends. We’re going to hear in particular from six of them in a moment,” Flaten Museum director Jane Nelson said during her introduction to the panel.

The art displayed consisted mainly of ceramic pieces, and all connected in some way to Gallas since he began his art career at St. Thomas College. After attending St. Thomas, Gallas pursued his M.F.A. at the University of Minnesota, eventually finding himself at the head of several large scale exhibitions, giving lectures and leading workshops.

Gallas has taught at Pennsylvania State University, Macalester College and St. Olaf College. The event was unique in that it not only honored Gallas, but also provided context for his work by including the pieces of some of his dearest friends, students and teachers.

The show’s introduction read: “Placing Gallas’ work in proximity to the work of artists who have influenced and been influenced by him, this show examines the interplay between artist and creative community.”

The pieces at the show were all different, despite the ceramics-centered theme. Many of the contributors traveled across the nation or sent their pieces many miles to ensure that the show had the perfect combination of works by important people in Gallas’ life. A former student of Gallas’ at Macalester college, Monica Rudquist was excited to celebrate Gallas’ career. Ever since meeting Gallas, Rudquist claims he has had a large impact on her artistic career.

“Anything and everything can be done with clay,” she said.

One of the most interesting aspects of the opening was the wide variety of pieces on display. Gallas’ style differed greatly from that of one of his former St. Olaf students, whose piece included over 100 individual ceramic components.

One of Rudquist’s pieces was porcelain rather than ceramic, adding a new dynamic to the show. Despite the variety of the work, all of the pieces were linked to Gallas in some way, making the night personal and intimate. Besides Rudquist’s contributions, everyone who came also appreciated works by Gallas’ professor Curtis Hoard at University of Minnesota, as well as his career long mentor Judy Onofrio.

The exhibit’s opening also marked the induction of the Ron Gallas Cup Library, the mission of which is to “make handmade ceramic cups more accessible to the St. Olaf community and, in doing so; build an appreciation for and awareness of the tradition of handmade functional pottery through tactile observation.”

Students can check out mugs from the library to use and appreciate for seven days. Gallas considers the appreciation of tactile, handmade objects especially important. It often goes overlooked in today’s digital age, which he says can lead to a desensitization toward the items people consume.

During the panel, Gallas’ colleagues described how he has impacted them for many years. Sam Chung, a former St. Olaf student of Gallas’, now works an art professor at Arizona State University, and was greatly influenced by Gallas during his undergraduate education.

“I started to emulate the way that I was taught, that’s the way Ron has influenced me,” Chung said.

Definitely leaving his mark on the ceramics field, colleagues and students across the country, Gallas’ long career was celebrated appropriately.

“I’m grateful to have been in this great field of ceramics with these great people. Thanks for the ride, its been a great 41 years,” Gallas said.