Leanne McClurg Cambric
Leanne McClurg Cambric is a potter whose vessels take the shape and color of her experiences and emotions. What emerges from the fiery kiln is as beautiful as it is useful and symbolic. Formerly a music major, Cambric speaks in melodious tones that often give way to an infectious laugh.
An assistant professor at Governors State University (GSU), Cambric says her ceramic cups, bowls, and urns are a channel for her to communicate with her audience.
“A lot of my work is autobiographical in that most of what I make is functional and has a relationship to food and a relationship to the body. As a feminist artist, I have a strong connection with food and the body. So there’s the functional part about art delivering food to the body that comes from my body and was created by my hands,’’ Cambric said.
Raised in Alaska and educated in Minnesota and Louisiana, Cambric spent a decade studying, teaching, leading, and honing her craft in the bayou. At Louisiana State University, Cambric earned a Master of Fine Arts; she later taught and served as a resident artist there. She was an instructor and department chair of Art, Music, Theater, and Entertainment Technologies at Baton Rouge Community College before joining Southern University briefly.
In 2009, she was laid off—a loss that contributed to a series of traumatic events Cambric calls “intense"—and in 2012, Cambric joined the GSU College of Arts and Sciences.
Cambric’s work is a mainstay in local and national art shows. The National Council on Education for the Ceramics named her Emerging Artist in 2007. In 2015, she won Best in Show at the Carbondale Clay Center’s juried show, Clay National X: Ceramic Color the Endless Pursuit, and she recently won first place at the prestigious Strictly Functional, a juried competition in which over 700 pieces were submitted and only 150—two of them belonging to Cambric—were accepted.
Next year, the ceramist will display at a new Kankakee gallery FEED founded by GSU art alumni.
The art showcases help inspire young artists seeking a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, Cambric said. “I want students to see a path as professional artists. My work and exhibition record allows them to see possibilities beyond academia.”
GSU Newsroom: You’ve been in academia your entire life and consistently show your work on a national stage. How does one influence the other?
Cambric: Academia allows me to make work that pushes the boundaries of the conventional functional object. I am lucky that my position at GSU encourages research so that I can focus on innovation instead of concern for the marketplace, in whether a work will sell or not.
GSU Newsroom: You have a deep respect for two dimensional art, but three dimensional art is where you thrive. Why are ceramics so personal for you?
Cambric: Making stuff by hand is critical to my own life. Growing up, we hunted and fished and did so many things with our hands. In ceramics, there’s stuff you learn how to do. I know how to work with wood from working in the studio. There’s a lot of stuff we have to construct. I know how to rewire an electrical kiln. Also, ceramics is a primitive art-making process that is physically demanding. Your body engages muscles you don’t use for anything else. It’s labor intensive and technical—chemistry is involved to make it a true balance of art and science.
GSU Newsroom: Your recent work with urns carried dark images. Did this reflect a mood?
Cambric: I lost a son and was making these urns as a tribute to every mother who has lost a child. I particularly empathize with mothers who are part of the ‘club’ of losing their child to racism and violence. I have black sons and worry about something awful happening to them. Because I lost a son, I may worry a little more over having to go through that grief again. So I made these urns that would sit on shelves in homes and reflect on my own relationship with people who died or just loss in general. They have a wood element and a clay element that both cradled and elevated them on a shelf or a wall. Things in your life change, and you have to figure out a way to pack it up and put it away. While the urns are functional objects they are largely aesthetically pleasing, symbolic sculptures.
GSU Newsroom: Your pieces help you process loss. How does emotional recovery show up?
Cambric: There’s an E.M. Forster quote I teach my students, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I don’t have a good connection with what I’m doing in the moment—I just do it from a strong push internally. Reflectively, I look back and see all this crap was going on in my life and can see what I was making. Then I see a great sea of calm and look at what was going on in the work. I’ve shifted out of allegorical work now and am moving back into the abstract. Abstraction feels calmer to me. I am excited about the changes in the work I’ve been making in the studio lately, and I can’t wait till my next exhibition.