The temporary exhibitions gallery is been a hive of activity since last week, with the installation of Artists of Hawai‘i 2013. One of the 11 artists in the exhibition is Roberta Griffith, who has been keeping us updated on her process through blog posts. Today is her third day in the gallery working on her installations.
Griffith retired in 2008 as the chair of the art department at Hartwich College in Oneonta, New York, and moved to Kaua‘i. Her long, storied career includes a Fulbright Grant to study art in Spain with José Lloréns Artigas from 1962 to 1964. She was named a teaching fellow in the Humanities Institute in Management at Hartwick College in 1990. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study ancient Mesoamerican civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1991 and is the American correspondent for Cerámica magazine in Madrid, in which two articles on prominent ceramists (Hirosune Tashima, Otto Heino) were published in 2010. In recognition of volunteer work in the Oneonta community, Roberta received the 2001 Charles W. Hunt Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts and Service to the Arts Community from Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts in Oneonta. Oh, and she won her first award for her art when she was 10—when she took first prize in the youth talent context in Battle Creek, Michigan, sponsored by the newspaper. She is a breast cancer survivor and works as hard now as she did before she retired. We caught up with her this morning before she got down to business to find out more about her and her art.
You’ve lived in Hawa‘i for five years, has that informed your artwork?
My work is informed by wherever I am. I am a world traveler. It’s an important part of what I’m about. Also archeology—I’m a potter, so I view the history of the world through ceramics. I went around the world with a backpack in 1995, visiting museums. Archeology, travel, history, anthropological research really inform my work.
What has your experience at the museum been like?
Fantastic. Everyone is so incredible. I have so many people helping me.
Your installation involves ceramic doll parts that you’ve made. Is this a concept you came up with for Artists of Hawai‘i, or something that has been evolving for a while?
It’s been a long time. When I was teaching drawing I’d do strange set ups to capture the inspiration of students. I like layers of things, I like things that are complex. It helps students to see things—looking through cloths, looking through water, shadows. I hung up a bag filled with an old tennis shoe and an old doll with ratty hair. I really liked the idea. There was a doll company in Oneonta, and I would get leftover molds. I’ve had this idea for a long time. So finally I started working on these things in 2010.
On a tour of Dachau I saw a photograph of a pile of shoes. Slowly things come together—we’ve had oil disasters, Sandy Hook. I want to evoke associations of places and their cultural manifestations that I have come across through research, archaeology, and world travel, as well as allude to human foibles, human mortality, the cyclical nature of life and death, and universal natural or man-made shortcomings. Material metaphors I create serve as unique repositories for the extension of my thoughts and reflections. Everything comes together in a different way when I’m working on an installation.
How do the baseballs come into the picture?
I lived 30 miles from Cooperstown.
Did you ship all your doll molds from New York to Kaua‘i?
No I made the doll parts in my studio in Oneonta. I spent two months there this summer.
Did you mention that you met Salvador Dalí?
Yes, I had cocktails with him at the Ritz in New York City in 1963. I had to deliver a presentation for a catalog for Evarist Vallés. Dalí was quite protective of him.