Organized by director John Olbrantz, the exhibition features 17 ceramic vessels from the collection of Keith Achepohl and examines how African potters - who are primarily women - have created unique and innovative ceramic vessels for domestic and ritual use. Made by hand and often fired in the open, these vessels embody an immediacy of form and a deceptive simplicity that reflect a deep understanding of material, process, and embellishment.
Many of these ceramics are functional; meant to store grain or water, to cook and serve food or medicines, or to keep treasured possessions safe. While the overwhelming majority of vessels are made for the home, their uses may be secular or sacred and may readily change depending upon their intended use. At the same time, certain vessels are created specifically for use in rituals of healing, divination, and ancestor worship or communication and serve no domestic purpose.
Director John Olbrantz says “While African sculpture has been been highly prized by collectors and curators for the past one hundred years, African ceramic work has not received the kind of critical attention it deserves.”
Keith Achepohl, an emeritus professor of printmaking from the University of Iowa who now lives in Eugene, Oregon, was one of the early collectors and champions of African ceramics. As a collector, he was drawn to the handmade quality of African ceramics, the anonymity of the potters, the endless variations of shapes and surface decoration, and their intrinsic value as humble yet beautiful works of art. Achepohl collected his first examples of African ceramics in Egypt in the mid-1970s, and, with the assistance and guidance of Chicago gallery director Doug Dawson from the 1980s to the present, has amassed one of the largest and finest private collections of African ceramics in the United States.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website