Group exhibition 'Shine' showcases works by Atlanta ceramicists

“Shine” is a group exhibition featuring the work of 13 Atlanta based ceramic artists. (Courtesy of Jessica Helfrecht)

 The transformation of water and clay into ceramics seems downright magical. Pottery grew out of the daily needs of life and evolved into an art form. “Shine” is an exhibition of new ceramics on view at the Echo Contemporary Gallery. Jessica Helfrecht is the curator and owner of Echo. She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to discuss the works on display in the new showcase.

Interview highlights:

On the origins, experience and gifting opportunity of “Shine”:

“I’m a long, long-time lover of ceramics, and I also make ceramic art myself. So over the years, I’ve always had a holiday show and ‘Shine’ was the name of the holiday show I had at my first gallery, Bare Hands, and it just really focuses on functional art, art that people can give as gifts. I think it’s really easy to give a piece of functional art to somebody you know. They’ll use a bowl rather than; you might worry they might not like this painting that you bought them. So I feel like functional art is a wonderful way to support artists and give one-of-a-kind gifts.” 

“It’s a beautiful, stunning show. The 12 ceramic artists share the main gallery — which is about 2,500 square feet — with a painter, Arthur Price, who does these huge tapestry paintings that are based on myths and fables, so they kind of have this ‘yesteryear’ feel to them,” Helfrecht explained. “Then these 12 potters are all highlighted individually on groups of pedestals, and so you can meander around there. And then… we have 30 studios in the space,= and all of those artists have work outside of their galleries in the hallways and you can see into their studios. So you get to see an exhibit and then also 30 artist working spaces. 

Why “crafts” shouldn’t be overlooked as examples of fine art:

“I think there’s definitely fine art craft if you will, and I think you’re alluding to the fact that [with] ‘arts and crafts,’ ‘crafts’ gets kind of downplayed a little bit. But there’s tremendous skill in throwing ceramics. If anybody has ever tried it, you have an instant appreciation for a simple form,” said Helfrecht. “It’s very, very difficult to throw pottery, and so I do believe that there’s a fine line between maybe something that could be a country craft kind of kitsch to a fine art craft piece.”

“Your craftsmanship, your skill, your mastery of the medium really elevates artists that make crafts to a higher level. You know, there’s incredible leather goods, incredible jewelry, incredible ceramics that I think when functional art is made it does get downplayed a little bit because people use it every day. It’s not held up on that high pedestal like a sculpture might be, but I love using my friend Katie’s mug every morning. It just gives me a special feeling to know that I know this person that made this, or that this is by hand, is really important to me.”

How cultural imprints on pottery (and vice versa) continue today:

“There are so many ways that artists make their mark on pottery, from the very simple… signature mark that you make on it. But also, there are tons of artists that are literally drawing on the ceramic surface, doing portraiture of their dogs, of the people in their life and I think that you can identify a lot of artists that have a distinct style of pinching a pot, or a way of throwing a handle,” Helfrecht said. 

“But then there’s also some ceramic artists who are really interested in using Georgia red clay, or there’s clay from different parts of the country that are mined, and maybe Native Americans out in New Mexico would use a certain clay body that they’ve always used from that area and from the earth there. So I do think, if an anthropologist was to look at a piece of found ceramics, I think you could tell a lot about the artists and what they were thinking about and their methods and their process.”

Echo Contemporary Gallery is hosting “Shine,” an exhibition of new work by local ceramicists, through Jan. 7. More information is available at