Visiting artist gives talk on her background, inspiration behind her creative structures

Artist Kala Stein (pictured left) stands next to assistant professor of art history Alla Myzelev (pictured middle) and artist James Johnson (pictured right). Stein gave the first All-College Hour talk of the semester on Feb. 13 in the Union Ballroom (Annie Renaud / staff photographer).

Despite a delay due to the weather, the campus and community members gathered for an artistic lecture that left the audience inspired.

The first All-College Hour talk of the semester was on Wednesday Feb. 13 at 2:30 p.m. in the MacVittie Ballroom. Assistant professor of art history Alla Myzelev introduced speaker and artist Kala Stein.

Stein is known for her work with porcelain and clay. Stein’s art also explores different systems of design. She received her MFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 2009. 

Stein grew up in the Finger Lakes region. Her inspiration stems from her background and all aspects of life. 

“I just pull from everything,” Stein said. “From everyday life, from nature, from architecture [and] fashion.” 

Business administration major senior Kelsey McCann admired Stein’s use of architecture for inspiration.

“I think what I found most interesting is how she takes architecture in multiple different areas and uses it in her pottery work and her vision,” McCann said. “I think that is really inspiring, looking in the environment around you and using it to help make a creative piece out of it.”

Based on the pieces Stein showed the audience, some of her major themes focus on community and nature. Stein’s thesis piece for her MFA in 2009, “Convivium,” emphasizes the sense of community she wants to express.

“It’s an interpretation of a monoculture or of a garden or field,” Stein said. “It definitely represents a banquet or a coming together. Something that relates to community or a group of people coming together to celebrate.”

Stein also obtained a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 2017 from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She worked with a group of friends and researched the historical and architectural remnants of the area.

Through the endowment, Stein worked on two projects. One of the projects was inspired by iron gates that allowed her to pick out different elements to create small pieces she would use in benches or park furniture.

“The idea is to source from a place of conflict in terms of making furniture or objects for peace, play or a coming together. The Bolton Hill neighborhood in Maryland historically has been a backdrop of poverty and racial unrest,” Stein said. “I’m hopefully offering a solution or at least a place where people are able to forget these issues.”

Stein lives in Sonoma, Calif. and was very close to the wildfires in 2017. A year after the fires, she was asked to create a piece for the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art. The piece was similar to a photoshoot featuring different urns she created displaying them around the damaged landscape.

“The piece is called ‘Urns from Manzenieta.’ It’s a memorial tribute for that which burned and for those who experienced the fires,” Stein said. “I thought it was an interesting way to be able to tell the story of the fires in terms of my relationship to that specific sight I drive past all the time.”

McCann values the importance of artwork in life. She believes in its importance for culture and history.

“People think back on artwork now to see through history and you see how people live,” McCann said. “You can see through people’s pieces and works the struggle they have gone through whether it be pottery or spray paint on a wall. I think that art is something that needs to be preserved and used for culture for the rest of time.”

Currently, Stein is the director of ceramics and arts at Sonoma Community Center. Over the summer, Stein will teach classes in Italy and China while exploring the cultural and historical significance of the areas. 

Stein left her audience with inspirational advice that she lives by every day.

“A final thought to leave you with today is to reach. By that I mean reaching for new experiences and reaching to the edge of what you can do to do more,” Stein said. “That is certainly a way I live my life. It’s brought me to so many great places and has exposed me to so many great people.”