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A series of sculptures made by Franklin students as part of an Academic Travel course focusing on ceramics are being exhibited at an Italian museum until April 19.

The Studies in Ceramics course, taught by FUS Professor Clarice Zdanski, takes students to an art house in Umbria (Italy), to develop works of art based on research undertaken prior to traveling.

In Fall 2016 the course focused on the representation of animals in masks.

Drawing inspiration from the medieval genre of the bestiary, Franklin students developed A Bestiary in Masks, a series of masks in terracotta, each made by a different member of the class and each of a different animal.

Basic hand building techniques were taught and interdisciplinary research was carried out on campus in different phases before arriving at the art center, visiting the museum and making the masks during the travel phase of the course.

In the first research phase, students worked in groups to create an online glossary of terms organized by categories, in order to establish a trans-historical base for the project, moving between the pre-scientific mindset of the bestiary to the birth of modern zoology, the way animals are represented in natural history museums, the way contemporary artists represent animals, and today’s increased sensitivity to animals as sentient beings.

In the second phase students explored the use of masks throughout history, concentrating on a single aspect of the mask that most appealed to each student, like a specific civilization, culture, or ethnic group, or a specific use of the mask, as to understand types of masks and to create a sort of personal heraldry by identifying with animal symbolism.

The third phase of research involved choosing animals to portray as masks. Students kept a sketchbook and were given a list of selected readings on the symbolism of animals and on the expression of emotions in animals and humans.

The final production phase was carried out during the travel component of the course, the high point of which was a residency with Luca Leandri at La Fratta Art House in Marsciano (Italy) to construct, fire and glaze the masks. Mr. Leandri, who has long collaborated with Professor Zdanski, proposed that the work of Franklin students be exhibited at the University of Perugia’s Galleria di Storia Naturale, located in Casalina close to Leandri and his wife’s art house, as a way to initiate a series of contemporary art exhibitions in the collections of the museum.

“The goal of ‘Studies in Ceramics’ is an exercise in total synthesis”, Professor Zdanski said. “Students on this course engaged in an intensely personal yet informed interaction with a museum collection through the production of an artistic genre, the mask, perhaps the ultimate trans-historical art/craft form.”

The Studies in Ceramics course is taught as part of Franklin’s suite of Academic Travel courses, open to all undergraduate students. Professor Zdanski will teach another Umbria-based Academic Travel course during Franklin’s summer session, focusing on sustainability and art – for more information on this and other summer session courses, open to all students worldwide, see Undergraduate Summer Courses.

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