Most graduates from University of Wisconsin-Stout either have jobs or find them soon after they graduate, as evidenced by the school’s 98.2 percent employment rate.
Students in the studio art program, however, often face a special employment challenge: Deciding whether to become independent artists or artisans — essentially entrepreneurs.
A group of 10 studio art majors saw what being a full-time artist might be like recently when they displayed their work at the American Craft Council show at the RiverCentre in St. Paul.
“It’s useful to know how this side of the art field works. This is how these artists maintain their practice,” said student Emily Gordon.
She wasn’t aware, she said, until the show that customers sometimes become loyal clientele or patrons, returning year after year to purchase items from their favorite artists. “Some artists can make their entire salary for the year at one of these shows,” she said.
Gordon, of St. Paul, is a junior majoring in studio art with a ceramics concentration. She was the team leader for UW-Stout’s booth at the American Craft Council show, which drew an estimated 8,000 people over three days in late April. Attendees paid admission.
About 230 professionals from around the U.S. displayed jewelry, home accents, furniture and clothing at the show, one of four held annually in four cities by the American Craft Council. The exhibitors are selected from a large group of applicants.
UW-Stout students, for the first time, were offered booth space at no charge as part of the council’s School to Market initiative to encourage young artists and artisans. UW-River Falls students also exhibited. The council partners with schools from around the U.S. to give them experience and “the practical insight and exposure needed to launch a successful practice after graduation,” the organization said.
“It’s the most professional event I’ve been part of. It’s another insight as to how ceramics can be displayed,” Gordon said. “The vendors were doing what we want to do.”
Six of the 10 students who took part exhibited ceramics, such as cups, bowls and teapots. Four students, whose studio art concentration is in metals and contemporary art jewelry, exhibited jewelry, such as earrings, brooches, bracelets and necklaces.
The items — 30 to 40 ceramics pieces per student and 10 to 40 jewelry pieces per student — were created outside of class, making the students’ spring semester an extra busy one. The semester ended with final exams May 7 to May 11.
Ceramics students worked with Professor Kate Maury. Metals and contemporary art jewelry students worked with Associate Professor Masako Onodera. Both have exhibited nationally and internationally.
Other students participating were Trever Foss, Carter Pasma, Jacob Anderson, Melissa Lackey and Lily Lund from ceramics; Ivy Berg, Sarah Robey, Bailey Mastin and Grace Wallstead from jewelry.
‘A great experience’
Creating the artwork for the show was just part of the experience. UW-Stout also had to create and set up its display modules. Through a student jobs program on campus, Onodera and participating students, including Gordon, hired six other students — two industrial designers, one graphic designer and three assistants — to create the display modules, posters and signage.
“We wanted to compete with everyone there,” Gordon said.
Planning for the exhibit began in fall 2017 and included support from the university’s Fine Arts Association, the School of Art and Design and the College of Arts, Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Along with seeing how the industry works and exhibiting at a national event, a third valuable aspect of the experience was the opportunity for students to network with professionals and work with the public, Gordon and Onodera said.
“We had a lot of good feedback and compliments on our presentation. There were a lot of questions about how things were made, so it was nice informing the public, which might not know a lot about the medium we work in,” Gordon said.
Being part of a major event like this “teaches students to find their voice,” Onodera said. “It was a great experience for them to be connected to a whole range of people through their work.”
UW-Stout students’ jewelry, which didn’t include precious materials, was nontraditional “but was received really well,” Onodera said.
Gordon is one of two students named UW-Stout’s Micheels Artists-in-Residence for the 2018-19 academic year. She will receive a studio space and be required to create a piece that will become part of UW-Stout’s permanent art collection.
When she graduates, Gordon is considering graduate school but also is looking at applying for artist residency programs where she could develop a body of ceramics work, she said.
UW-Stout art students, along with Associate Professor Masako Onodera, fifth from left, displayed their handmade ceramics and jewelry at the American Craft Council show in April in St. Paul.
More than 200 items were displayed by 10 UW-Stout students at the show.