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Gallery showcase honored ceramist Brian Ransom before retirement

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published March 22, 2023
Categories: Academics, Visual Arts
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A recent exhibition honored the career of Professor of Visual Arts Brian Ransom. Photos by Penh Alicandro ’22

Light streamed through the massive windows in the Main Gallery at The Helmar and Enole Nielsen Center for Visual Arts at Eckerd College, and various musical pitches droned from huge sculptures strategically displayed around the room.

Each “Sound Resonator Beacon” produced a different tone, and the pitches combined in some locations to create overtones. The nearby Elliott Gallery also exhibited sculptures, all of which required manual input to make a sound. Each of these pieces had been sculpted by Brian Ransom, Eckerd professor of visual arts. And this second public show—titled Looking Back, and Forward—was a collection of works meant to honor his fruitful ceramics career.

Ransom has been working with sound his whole career; it’s one of his passions. The Elliott Gallery collection was centered on three female figures. Ransom refers to them as the three muses. The first of the three to be fired was inspired by a dream he had years ago and was among a collection of 17 god-like figures, a beacon of Ransom’s career. The other pieces in the show reside in triangular points relative to the three central muses.

Sculpture of head with snake emerging from forehead

One of Ransom’s “muses”

Most of the sculptures in the gallery had water in the bottom, and that’s how they produce sound. It’s an interesting concept because it’s not immediately apparent that they make noise at all. The water vessels produce different pitches when they’re tilted at different angles. The sound is produced as the water moves through the clay.

Ransom’s 27-year career at Eckerd College will come to a close at the end of this academic year. He says leaving is bittersweet. When he came to Eckerd, he had the opportunity to build his dream studio right on campus. It’s a no-sweep system and all the kilns are his own design. He created the Clay Program, but it’s sustained by dedicated students—many of whom have been impacted by Ransom’s mentorship and teaching.

Ransom’s works of art on display in the Elliott Gallery

Sam Shively, a junior psychology and animal studies student from Overland Park, Kansas, reflects on her favorite work she’s made in her art studies here. It came out of one of Ransom’s classes. “He’s super fun and creative and wise,” she says. “He pushes me to be more innovative in my work, and he’s very good at teaching techniques that will make my vision come to life.”

As one of Ransom’s students, Sam has often had the opportunity to visit the gallery. She’s seen him demonstrate all of the pieces and explain how they work. Because she’d made one of her own for a class assignment, she was most impressed by the whistles.

“It’s just amazing that these tubes are capable of creating such beautiful music,” she says.

Ransom’s departure from Eckerd is leading him to a large studio space in Northern California, but he doesn’t plan to stop teaching. He gets too much out of it to quit. He hopes to continue educating in workshops, working with kids, and even traveling internationally.

“What they don’t tell you about teaching is that you get a string of dedicated students who you stay connected with,” he says. “It’s very hard to leave, but I’m excited to find out what’s next.”

The shows were open through March 17 before making way for Senior Thesis Exhibitions.