Jana Evans, Porcelain Tea Pot, 10 x 7 x 6".

Courtney Murphy, Sugar Bowl, 6 x 4" and Creamer 5 x 4".

The Sweet Life, out of Time and just for Fun

Red Star Studios
2100 Walnut Street
Kansas City
The Sweet Life
February 3-March 24, 2012


The four ceramic artists in the invitational The Sweet Life at Red Star Studios, showing candy-colored wares and dessert servers, have created table settings that would proudly set the Mad Hatter’s table or fit nicely in Minnie Mouse’s hope chest. Although there was no unifying element in the beginning, according to Michael Baxley, gallery manager at Red Star Studios, the overall tone references Victorian times when one might spend hours over tea and have a dish designated only as an olive server. Opening just in time for Valentine’s Day, these delectable pieces could be just what your sweetie would love.

Chandra DeBuse, resident artist at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Jenny Gawronski, assistant professor at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, make decorative tableware that sends us into paroxysms of metaphorical imaginings. Gawronski’s delicate, pale green and white tablescapes are like giant 3-D clay doilies surrounding a small, ornate place setting for one. Lids for her desert plates, shaped like perfect breasts with pointy nipples for the handles, beg you to notice that the decorative scapes framing the plates fit together like lovers. The espresso cups have frills peeking from the handles over and around the rim of the cup as if they were there to protect a delicate mustache.

Influenced by the arabesque patterns in Islamic architecture, Gawronski wants to encourage more meaning to our dining experience with her ornate settings. Slow down, pamper yourself with a cupcake from within a dish that holds four, or maybe only two cupcakes. “The table acts as a stage for intimate performances between my objects and their users,” says Gawronski in her artist’s statement. She includes words like splendor, rhythm, inspiration — so romantic.


Chandra DeBuse creates bowls, serving plates and tumblers with spirited forms and decoration. By her own description, her vessels incorporate, “bouncing lines, candy colors, low relief and hand-drawn elements,” with which she intends to impart a “playful approach to life.” Indeed, her pastel-colored treat servers, complete with golden spoons incorporated into the top layer like a bulbous flower sticking out of a bed of leaves, layered one over another, incite a child-like glee audaciously standing proud in front of adults, daring them not to be enchanted.

Jana Evans and Courtney Murphy, both current resident artists at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, have a more traditional style, but their intentions are in much the same playful vein. All of these artists seem to be telling us to value our time, our relationships with each other, our food and our vessels. Jana Evans’ delicate-lidded jars and small pyramid-shaped serving bowls remind us that enough is just enough. Her subtle surface designs suggest something discovered peering through a microscope at a slice of organic matter. Evans attempts, “to generate an intimate relationship of use by reaching out to others in the form of a handmade cup, bowl or jar,”according to her artist’s statement.

Courtney Murphy makes no secret of her child-like intentions. Her earthenware teapots, ice cream bowls, cookie jars, mugs and sugar and cream sets are dainty in stature and decoration. Expertly thrown, the vessels are decorated with graceful flowers and other organic shapes scratched into the clay over white or pale-colored backgrounds. Murphy finds her inspirations in the, “simplified abstractions of nature, children’s artwork, folk art, mid-century modern forms and shapes …” Murphy says that she is drawn to creating functional work because the objects she makes leave her studio “to become a part of somebody else’s daily routine.” Drinking a cup of tea from one of Murphy’s petite mugs, nibbling on a tiny cookie taken from the lidded cookie jar would not feel routine. It might make one take a minute, to live in the now, enjoy the contact with vessels made with such care.

Each artist is given her own section, and the work is displayed on pedestals of differing heights in the center of the gallery of the Red Star Studios. Although there are walls on two sides to separate The Sweet Life from the other work on display in the gallery, two sides are open to the tables showcasing the work of Red Star members. The Sweet Life would have benefited from having another wall, to give the show prominence in the gallery — putting it on its own pedestal.

Jenny Gawronski Drink and Dessert setting for two, 8 x 12 x 30".


Chandra DeBuse, Green Treat Server, white stoneware, 6.5 x 9 x 7".