A Gathering: Works from ‘Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists’ is a new exhibition at the Crocker co-curated by Chotsani Elaine Dean and donald a clark. It brings to life the pages of their newly published book, Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists, and presents sculptural and functional ceramics from 35 Black American emerging and established artists who live and work in the United States.
One of these artists is Adero Willard, a ceramic artist who uses her work to explore identity, navigating the beauty and complexity that comes with being multiracial. Willard moves to Sacramento later this year to teach ceramics at California State University, Sacramento, and Rachel Gotlieb, the Crocker’s Ruth Rippon Curator of Ceramics, reached out to Willard to learn a little more about her practice and what she is looking forward to most about her new home.
RG: Your imagery is so distinct: floral patterns from cloth, city streets, gardens, and so forth. Where do you find these wonderful patterns? Do they hold special meaning for you?
AW: A unifying thread in my artistic journey is the exploration of ordered chaos. I am inspired by the exquisite traditions of textiles, ceramics, and sculpture across diverse cultures— like Africa, Asia, South America—and I am captivated by the way patterns entwine chaos and order, evoking emotions through their vibrant discord and rhythmic harmony.
RG: What inspires you to work in terra cotta? Sometimes you paint the terra cotta black and sometimes you leave it exposed. What is your thinking here?
AW: The red clay of terra cotta is like skin, and it imparts a richness and a sense of depth to the surfaces I meticulously build. My artistic process embraces touch, memory, and color through the transformative power of slips, underglaze, glaze, Egyptian paste, and luster, and through multiple firings. As an artist and educator, my love for clay nurtures not only a passion for the arts but also a reverence for cultural legacies and the beauty of handmade craftsmanship in both myself and others.
RG: How was the experience participating in an exhibition solely dedicated to Black American artists?
AW: Participating in A Gathering was an incredible honor and a transformative experience. The exhibition not only showcased the immense talent and creativity of Black American ceramic artists, but also underscored the urgent need for representation and inclusion in the art world. It was a powerful affirmation of the value of our artistic voices and a reminder of the broader significance of promoting diverse perspectives within the creative community.
This experience led me to curate Clay Holds Water, Water Holds Memory at NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts). This exhibition became a platform to celebrate the resilience and creativity of Black women and Black nonbinary artists working in clay.
My hope is that more exhibitions, collaborations, and curated projects will continue to provide platforms for Black ceramic artists to showcase their work and contribute their unique perspectives. By organizing and participating in such initiatives, we can create lasting change, challenge existing narratives, and build a more inclusive and vibrant ceramics community that truly reflects the diverse world in which we live.
RG: Entangle #2, which is on display in A Gathering, has a strong sense of figuration and movement. Can you expand on this approach?
AW: My art embodies the delicate interplay between the human form, fabric, and identity. I shape and mold forms that evoke the fluidity and strength of the female figure, infusing them with vibrancy and energy. The textures, patterns, and colors of fabric and textiles play a vital role, acting as a visual language that speaks of cultural heritage, adornment, and personal identity. These entangled forms echo the intricate weaves of fabric, symbolizing the profound interconnections between individuals, communities, and the broader tapestry of society.
My creative process pays homage to the coil builders across the globe, particularly West African women makers, while also drawing inspiration from the pioneering painters of the Harlem Renaissance—an era that brought forth a transformative wave in African American art and culture.
RG: We are so excited that you are moving here to teach at Sacramento State this fall. Tell us about your new position and what you are looking forward to.
AW: I'm excited, too! Over the past couple of years, I have devoted myself to both teaching and creating my own artwork, and this new position offers an incredible opportunity to further explore and integrate these two aspects of my artistic life. I am deeply grateful for the chance to contribute to the vibrant art community there, and the prospect of collaborating with passionate colleagues and engaging with talented students fills me with anticipation.
Moving from the east coast is a milestone in my artistic journey. The campus and art community at Sac State felt like home, and joining the ceramics department alongside Scott Paraday is inspiring. We bring different expertise, and I think our collaboration will create a dynamic teaching team.
I am also excited to be a part of Sacramento State's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It was evident to me during my time there that this wasn't just rhetoric, but a genuine effort to implement real change. I hope to bring my own passion for DEI to the collaborative efforts on the Sacramento State campus and within the Sacramento community.
A Gathering is on view now through August 20. Reserve your admission here.