Highlights from the Collection

Collection Highlight: New Acquisition, 2016
Barbara Sorensen, Hanging Boats, 2007


Barbara Sorensen
(b. Racine, WI 1945)
Hanging Boats, 2007, stoneware, stones, and paint.

Collection of the Mennello Museum of American Art, Gift of Barbara Sorensen, 2016.

Inspired by the fjords of Milford Sound, New Zealand, Sorensen’s Boats intersect at the realms of light and dark, sacred and profane—where heavy, ceramic vessels float effortlessly between disparate borders and into gradations of gray.

As is true in the Chalice series, Sorensen’s Boats create a metaphorical space to be filled or occupied and then emptied or left. The viewer is placed nearly eye level with the boats, able to see the undulations and changes of layers on the surface as well as the immensity, which would normally be hidden below in shadowy waters. The roughened outer surface, bulges and displays signs of weathering leaving behind only traces of a harsh, uncontrollable environment of water and wind. The rocks, pebbles, and incisions remind the viewer of a sea vessel, which has in its past hit a jagged shoreline and built up a protective outer shell of barnacles over time. The inside remains smooth and organic, but also molded by the journey. We are left with the trace of natural forces beyond human control, left in the space of stillness, quietude, and somber waters after the rough passing of storms.


Collection Highlight: New Acquisition, 2016
Barbara Sorensen, Chalice Forest, 1999 – 2014


Barbara Sorensen
(b. Racine, WI 1945)
Chalice Forest, 1999 – 2014, stoneware, stones, gold and silver leaf.

Collection of the Mennello Museum of American Art, Gift of Michael A. Mennello, 2016.

The Chalice Forest rises fatefully upward from the dark toward the sky, revealing the artist’s stratigraphic layers of production highlighted and shadowed dramatically in hints of light. The hand of the artist is evident, fingerprints build these mounting structures, emulating epic geological formations of the earth’s visible crust, which simultaneously collide, rise, and pull apart at their seams. For Sorensen, the malleable quality of clay as a medium pushes her to mold and modify the earth, just as natural forces shape the world we see.

These vessels, which allude to monumental structures of the earth turned upside down as ritual goblets are destined to be filled with offerings. While the chalices are empty, they burst with a golden glow and the implication of an invisible, spiritual gift. Sorensen exploits the immense visual weight of the minutely tapered chalice suggesting a gift that will also extend beyond the walls of the sculptural form.

Everything drew me to it: the touching; the feeling; the making of something from absolutely nothing. I loved the tactile quality of the clay; the pushing and pulling of the earth; I loved physically moving the clay and building it; I fell in love with clay.

—Barbara Sorensen