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Sculpting a Life Ceramicist Constant Albertson uses her art to fill the void left by her mother’s death by Kristen Andresen

Constant Albertson developed Memorial from several drawings that she did sitting at her mother’s bedside. It represents the moment that her mother, Johnnie Albertson, died. Artwork by Constant Albertson Photo by Alan Stubbs

Editor’s note: Full-length version of story.

In ceramics, the void is a powerful thing. Whether visible or hidden from view, the hollow space inside a vessel is as important as the surface. It defines structure, shape, character.

As a ceramic sculptor, Constant Albertson is acutely aware of that inner space. Sometimes in her work, it holds or cradles an object — a slice of apple, a skeleton, an egg — that the viewer can access through a hinged door or an opening in her piece of art. Other times it holds an idea or a message, shrouded by a wall of clay, a secret known only to the artist.

In life, the void is an equally powerful thing. Albertson discovered this viscerally, intensely in the wake of her mother’s death in 2007. Johnnie Albertson was larger than life. Extraordinary. Her death left a hollow space not easily filled with figures or ideas.

“When death comes and when it’s personal, it seems like such a mystery,” Albertson says. “They’re here and then they’re gone. What do you do with that hole in your life?”

For Albertson, an art education professor at the University of Maine, the answer was obvious: Make art. And for three years, she focused on this memorial, building and refining sculptures that examine the complex — and at times contradictory — life of a self-made woman.

The resulting installation, Storyteller, is a riveting narrative about motherhood, myth and memory. Arranged like a clock face, Storyteller consists of 13 sculptures, one at each time station — each representing seven years of Johnnie’s life — and one in the middle. Instead of hands, crayon lines and handwritten dates on the gallery floor radiate from the center. The crayon is intended to blur and fade, like memory, over time.

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Fall 2011

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