Fargo-artist Brad Bachmeier is creating clay studies while exploring some of the most breathtaking places on the planet in a series of five residencies.
Art has been ingrained in the history of national parks for over a hundred years, tracing back to when paintings were the only means of sharing the awe-inspiring views with the rest of the world.
Through paintings, drawings and later photographs, work from artists like Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson would ultimately lead to establishing the country’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, followed by a whole network of other cherished lands.
In the years since, this tradition has been carried out through immersive residencies from an ever-growing range of artists working in all types of media — now including ceramics.
With a body of work representing five residencies in parks across the nation, ceramicist Bachmeier marries his craft of clay with a passion for archeology, geology and what he calls “investigating how humankind has relied upon clay since the beginning of time.”
Now on display at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, “Conservation Through Clay'' includes around 50 pots inspired by the physical formations and topography of each park.
His process meets up with the history of ancient Indigenous uses of clay and the future of preservation of the lands.
While no formal reception has been scheduled for the exhibition, in true professor fashion, the Minnesota State University Moorhead ceramics teacher recorded a gallery talk that can be found on the museum’s website.
In the video, Bachmeier shares pictures and stories about his journeys to Mesa Verde National Park, Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, Petrified Forest National Park, Red Rock Anyone National Conservation Area and Lewis and Clark State Park.
Kicking off in his home state, Bachmeier’s foundational experiences at Lewis and Clark State Park opened his mind to how clay could tell stories of conservation.
“On the first night that we were there, my son and I were settling by the shore of Lake Sakakawea to watch the sunset and as dusk approached, the scene was interrupted by our count of 14 oil wells that were flaring natural gas across the horizon,” says Bachmeier.
With the help of research and experiments, Bachmeier set out on a mission to capture the spirit of the lands and thereby inspiring each viewer of the piece to address their connection to the importance of preserving nature.
“The joy and inspiration that I found during my first residency led me toward a new series of work, resulting in over 200 works being created,” says Bachmeier.
Half of the work was created in-situ, or while he was staying in the park, traveling with a small kiln to fire his works, while experimenting to create proprietary processes of combining colors, textures and firing techniques to recreate his surroundings.
Set up with research books, maps, sketchbooks and field notes right in the heart of the parks, Bachmeier made pottery in remote locations like Mount Trumbull, over 7,000 acres of wilderness just north of the Grand Canyon.
“The last thing the ranger told me about Mount Trumbull was, ‘Remember, it is mountain lion territory so you don't have to bother making any noise to scare them away — they'll know you are there and they'll be tracking you.'”
While Bachmeier didn’t experience any close encounters with wildlife, he did face challenges with weather during his most recent residency at Red Rock Canyon when a storm blew his tent and supplies a mile away.
As he found a connection back to nature, Bachmeier fused ancient ceramic methods with new skills like cutting and polishing stones to fit the tops of his pots, or firing rocks to break them down into elemental ingredients only to build them back up again in the shape of the land.
In a recent article published by Ceramics Monthly, art critic and writer Pamela Sund summarizes his work by saying, “At a time in human history when conservation concerns are paramount and nature-deficit disorder is an actual ailment, Bachmeier calls attention, through ceramic art, to the U.S. National Parks as places of healing and beauty, treasures to be preserved.”
Bachmeier’s residencies were supported by funding from National Park Service and individual parks as well as grants and fellowships from the North Dakota Council on the Arts as well as The Arts Partnership.
IF YOU GO
What: Conservation Through Clay
Where: North Dakota Museum of Art, 261 Centennial Dr, Grand Forks, ND
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.