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New Hunterdon Art Museum Exhibition Explores Universal Language of Clay

CLINTON, NJ – The members who comprise the East & West Ceramic Artists Association may struggle to understand each other when they speak, but when it comes to working with clay, their ability to communicate is effortless.

Hunterdon Art Museum

The Hunterdon Art Museum will feature the group’s art in its main gallery in an exhibition titled “East & West Clay Works.” It runs until March 10.

East & West was formed more than a dozen years ago by South Korean Professor Gil Hong Han. Han, then a professor at Seoul National University of Technology, was a visiting instructor at Long Island University when he began traveling the northeastern United States, sharing his dream of forming a group comprising ceramic artists from South Korea, Japan and this country.

“Professor Han’s basic idea was not to bring together the best known ceramic artists from America and Korea, but to foster friendships and a spirit of volunteerism and cooperation,” said Shellie Jacobson, a group member and president of the exhibition at the Museum. While traveling, Han met Montclair State University Professor William McCreath and a former student Jong Sook Kang, and the dream took wing. Within a year, artists reached across the Pacific Ocean, cooperating to create an exhibition in New York City.

Jacobson has witnessed this spirit of cooperation in action. “When I went to Korea, I never saw a show go up like that in my life. They had about 50 students wheel everything in, unpack it, and the show was set up in an hour. That’s the spirit of cooperation and friendship, and how everyone participates that makes this group special.”

East & West is a core group of artists with a number of guest artists invited to participate in each show. Since its inception in 1998, ceramic artists have participated in biennial exhibitions in New York City, Seoul, Princeton and Mashiko, Japan. At the Museum, the works of 26 artists will be featured.

The Universal Language Of Clay

Viewers of the East & West Clay Works Exhibition will discover close up how ceramics from these divergent cultures influence each other, and what different cultures can accomplish through the spirit of cooperation. While the exhibition concentrates on small-scale sculpture, the variety of work casts light on the multiple ways in which artists approach clay today.

“You can see whether the work done by the Japanese artists influences what’s done in America,” Jacobson said. “This exhibition shows how the works relate and speak to each other. We don’t have a theme. You can learn from each culture, see what’s important to them, how they do the work and what they’re doing right now in ceramics.”

Jacobson noted, for example, one distinction between eastern and western ceramic art: “Even though [artists in the East] draw from contemporary influences, their work is very rooted in their culture,” Jacobson said. “But what is our tradition in our country? We have one, but we’re very much a melting-pot culture, and our ceramics reflect that.”
And while remaining distinct, the works speak a common language, Jacobson said.

“It’s the material that is going to speak,” Jacobson said. “Clay is universal; it’s in all cultures. And it speaks. It speaks to you.”

Jacobson’s involvement with East & West began when one of her ceramic pieces was part of an exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum. Several East & West members viewed the exhibition, including Jong Sook Kang, who telephoned her and asked if she could visit her studio.

“At the time I didn’t know who she or Professor Han was,” Jacobson said. “I felt like I should put food on the table, but I didn’t know what to offer; I didn’t know who they were, or what they eat or if they were vegetarians. So, I put out some cake and tea and coffee expecting only two people, when this big van pulled up and all these people started spilling out.”

The visit went wonderfully as Professor Han chatted with Jacobson, visited her basement studio and offered to buy one of her pieces. “I told him it was a gift. He told me no and said in Korea the first time we meet someone we buy something. And I said this is America and the first time we give gifts, so I’m giving you this as a gift. He accepted the gift, and then his wife said ‘But I want to buy this.’ See, but then it was equal, so it was OK.”

A year later, Jacobson received another phone call inviting her to exhibit with the group in New York City. The artist still finds the experience enriching and rewarding a decade later thanks to the friendships that have developed across the ocean and the spirit of cooperation the group shares.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see these three cultures in one place in the clay tradition,” Jacobson said. “And it’s a wonderful story about how different cultures can get together and produce this show. I hope viewers won’t dash by each piece in two seconds. The work isn’t gimmicky or full of new technical innovations. It’s genuine, honest work, and it’s worth taking a long look at.”


The Museum is at 7 Lower Center St. in Clinton, New Jersey, 08809. Our website is and our telephone number is 908-735-8415. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am – 5 pm and suggested admission is $5.

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