Gerit Grimm a Whimsical Ceramic Sculptor

A Studio Visit, Conversation, and Works in Progress

By: - Mar 29, 2010

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At a recent 'Dish & Dine' evening at Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, we met Gerit Grimm and Mary Ann Davis, who are both ceramic artists, yet work in very different ways. Grimm's sculpture, a tall young woman on a horse, a very playful piece, was adorned with painted flowers. 'Lady Godiva' greeted us from a pedestal at the entrance of the gallery. Later, the thirty-five guests that evening were dining from Davis' colorful and delightful dinner ware.  Note, the emphasis here is on 'light-full.'

Gerit grew up in Halle, then part of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) or East Germany for the first fifteen years of her life. Our common language provided instant understanding and Gerit's refreshing charm played out in her whimsical sculpture, 'Lady Godiva.' We wanted to learn more about her personally and the work.

Grimm is currently finishing a three months long artist residency at Ferrin's studio in Cummington, Massachusetts, where she shares a large pottery studio with other pottery/ceramic-artists. A discussion ensued later about the terms: Potter – ceramic sculptor – artist - which, we conclude in the end, is based on personal preferences.

She inhaled the smell and absorbed the feeling of clay as a young teenager too deeply and was hooked! That was before her family wanted her to study medicine or law, but Gerit prevailed. After graduating from High School, she became an apprentice at the company Altbuergeler blau-weiss in Buergel, Germany, where she learned the traditional trade of a potter.  I well remember those blue mugs and dishes with large white spots from Germany. Still today, she uses the pottery-wheel to form all individual parts of her sculptures, before assembling them carefully by hand.

Next, she worked as an assistant to a well known potter for a year and created her portfolio. She wanted to study Ceramic Art at the prestigious School for Applied Art & Design, Burg Giebichenstein, in her home town Halle. She applied a couple of times with hundreds of others, competing for a few places. Gerit told members of the admitting committee, that she would continue to apply until they would take her. They promptly did, and Gerit received her diploma four years later in 2001.

Gerit was equally determined to further her studies in the USA, when she competed for a DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst) Fellowship in Bonn. Again, there were hundreds other applicants, who came from all over Germany. She won the Fellowship and was accepted to the Ceramics Department at the University of Michigan, School of Art & Design, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Studying and living in America proved to be a hard beginning. She will attest that the term 'culture shock' applied to her, and she had to learn to speak English. Gerit may at first present a playful side of her personality; apparently, she is also known for her German directness, and determination. After a year at the University of Michigan she received a MA (Master of Art) in 2002.

Next, she worked toward a MFA (Master of Fine Arts) Degree at New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, New York. She was awarded her degree two years later in 2004. During those years at Alfred University she also taught classes in ceramics, which she continued to do at different locations.

Gerit met her husband, Ryan LaBar, during a summer residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana. She returned to Helena for five years, in order to receive their diploma.  LaBar is currently finishing his graduate degree at the University of Lincoln, Nebraska, in the Ceramics Department. She was an artist in residence at  Lux Center for the Arts in Lincoln. They have been married for four years now. Student life and marriage is not easy, when you are scraping by financially, but Gerit is hopeful that all things are looking up now !

She met the producer, Kelly Rush, of Nebraska Television (NET), and the videographer/editor, Brian Seifferlein, who made a fine and fun five minute film about Grimm, her work process and sculptures. It is titled: "Fantasia in Clay." You may also link and play from her website.

Recently, in Cummington, she invited the potter, Megan Hart to paint flowers on her figurines. Megan has for years adorned her own pottery with flower arrangements and horses and is much more fluent with the paint brush, according to Gerit. They are both new at exploring their collaboration. Hart refers to the sculptures as Grimm's pieces, to which she feels honored to contribute.

Megan also shows her work at Ferrin Gallery, she has known and worked with Leslie Ferrin for many years.  She lives with her two children on a farm nearby in Conway, Massachusetts. Hart has been working as a potter, the term she is comfortable with, for 30 years. She received her BFA in ceramics from Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, and also studied at Hornsey College of Art in London, England, and has presented her work in many exhibitions nation-wide.

Please view the slide show of Grimm's sculptures, most were still waiting to be completed at the studio. Female and male figures all resemble Gerit in some way. Her dressed or nude figurines are placed in fantastic settings, but she denies any relationship to the 'Gebrueder Grimm' (Grimm's fairy tales). Larger sculptures measure approx. 2' in height.

During the interview Grimm unwrapped from plastic a carriage with four people placed inside, a coach man and woman seated above to hold the reins of the horses. She explained that the luggage, belonging to the passengers, was still missing and that she had to devise a way to attach the horses. 'The Coach' would become her most complex sculpture so far. The work was drying slowly under plastic in order to avoid breakage. But work also breaks in the kiln during the firing process. "The moment of opening up the kiln is always like opening presents," she exclaimed ! And, "I love my work." All pieces must be fired twice, before and after the glazing process.

Grimm's residency at Ferrin's studio will end in April with an exhibition by two artists: 'Left Behind,' from April 10 – 24, reception 4/10 5-7pm, at Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield. The other sculptor will be Michael Boroniec. Gerit will travel with Leslie Ferrin to the Philadelphia conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), from March 31st  – April 3rd, where she will also place work in a group exhibition at Wexler Gallery. Then, Ferrin has chosen to include Grimm's work at the most prestigious SOFA Fairs (International Expositions of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art) in New York City from April 16 – 19.

Grimm has shown in a number of states in the US, Germany, and China during the last ten years. She has presented in solo and many group exhibitions and most fondly or proudly remembers the recent exhibitions of 2009, as the Featured Artist at Red Lodge Clay Center, Helena, Montana; and 'Devine Decadence,' Lux Center for the Arts, Lincoln, Nebraska. Also, 'Carnival,' at the John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygen, Wisconsin, in 2006. - She participated in the 2009 group exhibition at The Kohler Company's Art Industry Collection Show, 789 Art Zone, Beijing, China; and in 2008 in 'Carnival,' Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Her sculptures are among others in the following collections: John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Archie Bray Foundation, Permanent Collection, Helena, Montana; and Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art at Alfred, Gloryhole Collection.

Gerit and husband, Ryan, have decided to spend the coming summer months at California State University at Long Beach, where she intends to build a teapot souvenir stand. Still unencumbered, they have enjoyed over the years traveling, living, and working in many different locations. There is also a possibility for the couple to direct and manage the residency program at LH Projects in very rural Joseph, Oregon, beginning this Fall.

Unfamiliar with her name I had asked Gerit, where it is derived from. Gerit is related to Geralde, which means 'spear.' That conjures up many images. Here, we present one: May her artistic spear fly very high and very far for a very long time.