Student presentation leads to faculty art exhibit

The idea behind Professor Susannah Biondo-Gemmell’s new art exhibit all started with a student’s presentation.

Susannah Biondo-Gemmell art

“One of our senior art history majors was presenting her capstone project on the Renaissance marriage chest,” Biondo-Gemmell said. “She mentioned the childbirth vessel during her presentation. I had just had my first son and I was immediately intrigued.”

After a semester and summer of work in the studio, she has created 40 five-piece sets reconsidering the Renaissance childbirth vessel, called “Scodella de Impagliata.” Historically, the vessels were given to new mothers in the birth room. They were both functional vessels used to nourish the new mother and celebratory objects. Images related to childbirth and early child rearing were often on the surfaces only to be seen by the new mother and other women caring for her.

Biondo-Gemmell traveled to Italy and England during her sabbatical to research the pieces and personally see them before setting out to create her own version.

“I used a ceramic slip-casting technique in order to create 40 five-piece sets, which are used as canvases to explore the maternal narrative,” Biondo-Gemmell said. “Historic imagery is paired with contemporary text in order to draw similarities and differences between childbirth experiences across time periods, including areas such as fertility, pregnancy, birth, and early childrearing. The text itself comes from a contemporary social media forum.”

The 40 pieces represent the typical 40-weeks of pregnancy.Susannah Biondo-Gemmell

Many aspects of the plaster mold-making and ceramic slip-casting processes used to create the pieces in the exhibit are taught in Biondo-Gemmell’s art classes. She hopes people who see her pieces draw relationships between past and current childbirth experiences  

“There are so many components of pregnancy, birth, and early childrearing that have changed, but childbirth is as old as humankind too,” Biondo-Gemmell said. “Voices of humor, wit, awe, complacency, shock, and despair are all reflected in these narratives. The exhibition draws relationships and points out disparities between childbirth experiences, while encouraging more conversations on the topic. “Scodella da Impagliata” hopes to highlight both the wonder and tragedy that comes with bringing a human into our world.”

“Scodella da Impagliata” will run from Sept. 17–Oct. 22. Gallery hours are Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. –4 p.m., and Sundays 2–4 p.m. in the Peter Paul Luce Gallery in McWethy Hall. The exhibition will have a public opening in the gallery from 3–5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23. Biondo-Gemmell will also be giving a public HAIG lecture on her research and this exhibition beginning at 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 12 in McWethy Hall room 222. The show and the talk are free to the public.

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell 2

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell almost done

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell 3

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell working the edge of the bowl

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell creating art for exhibit 1

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell smoothing the outside of her work

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell 4

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell at the wheel

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell creating art for exhibit 2

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell smoothing the curve

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell 5

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell casting a top

  • Susannah Biondo-Gemmell's art

    Susannah Biondo-Gemmell finished work waiting for firing