New artist resident brings new ideas to IUS ceramics program

Sydney Ewerth uses past experiences to move forward creatively at IU Southeast.


Ewerth discusses the composition of some clay with students in class. Photo by Shelby Pennington.

Shelby Pennington, Staff Reporter

Tucked in a small room adjacent to the ceramics classroom, clay, vinyl and plastic twist together in bright colors and bold forms. The walls are plastered with drawings, neon paint, tape and material samples; all inspiration to the studio’s occupant, artist resident Sydney Ewerth.

Artist Residency

The artist residency is a position within the ceramics department that started around eight years ago. The residency is intended to bring in artists from different backgrounds to instill new ideas and perspectives into the program and is meant for early career artists who have recently obtained an M.F.A.

Sydney Ewerth, who currently holds the position, is the eighth resident artist IU Southeast has hired since Ceramics Area Coordinator Brian Harper started the program. Applications for the position come from all over the country; past residents have been from Colorado, Pennsylvania, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, and most recently, Alabama.

According to Harper, bringing in new perspectives is important to the program and the students. He believes Ewerth fulfills the position well, as her techniques, style and ideas are different from his own. This variety allows students to learn a wide range of approaches to ceramics.

The position is also unique from other residency programs in that it features a teaching component. Ewerth teaches 3-D design and several levels of ceramics, which introduces her to many students with a wide range of backgrounds and skills.

I love teaching art and I think that more people should go to school for art,” Ewerth said. “I think that this program, especially all the faculty here, is so awesome and it’s just such a good program, especially coming from a huge school. I was teaching at the University of Alabama too, and the students here are so real and funny.”

“I just I don’t know, there’s something magical about this place,” Ewerth said.

Ewerth’s Background

Ewerth comes from Atlanta, GA with a B.F.A. from the University of Augusta and an M.F.A from the University of Alabama.

She cites the support of her family, friends and mentors as the main reason she continued her art career. She started college as an art major but recalls feeling unsure about her future. The hard work Ewerth saw her colleagues putting into their work and the encouragement she received from the faculty at the University of Augusta inspired her to stay with art.  

After graduating with her B.F.A, she gained experience at Tire City Potters, a studio and gallery in Augusta, GA. This gave Ewerth knowledge on how to run a studio and insight into what a career in ceramics might look like.

Later, she worked as a gallery assistant at the Westobou Festival, an art festival also in Augusta, GA. There she met Matt Mitros, an artist who was starting a graduate program at the University of Alabama. She eventually moved into that program and graduated with an M.F.A in ceramics.

In January 2018, Ewerth began a residency in New Harmony, IN with the New Harmony Clay Project. Similar to the IU Southeast residency, she was given studio space and time to concentrate on her work. There she was able to devote her time entirely to exploration and furthering her career. When that position came to an end in April of that year, she applied for and was accepted to the residency program at IU Southeast in July 2018.

Students blend clay scraps with their hands before putting it into the mixer. Photo by Shelby Penninton.

Ewerth’s Work

Ewerth’s work is diverse and primarily deals with the interactions between herself, the media and light. Using a wide variety of materials, she creates works that span an entire room as well as intimate sculptures. She said adding light to pre-existing works allows her to reinvigorate them and create something entirely new.

In graduate school, Ewerth took an interest in shapes and drawing. She was intrigued by what she could do by projecting light onto her ceramics sculptures and tracing the shadows then filling them with color. This carries through in her work today, as Ewerth still works with light and shadow.

“That’s [working with shadows] what I’m focusing on right now, like taking these objects and distorting them to the point where they’re sort of recognizable, but not really. A lot of the sculptures I’m starting to make are based on real objects,” Ewerth said.

A technique she is currently using to fulfill this focus is packing clay around pre-made objects until they are no longer immediately recognizable as the original form. Previous projects have incorporated items such as shoes, swimming goggles and a stuffed duck.  

Ewerth’s other current interests include the concept of a silhouette, especially in how it’s only a representation of the true object. Her work with clay calls back to this idea by creating a “3-D silhouette.”

While her focus is ceramics, Ewerth uses a variety of materials in her work and pushes the limits of sculpture and its interpretation. Many of her pieces explore the boundaries and relationships between materials, as she shows mastery in combining different disciplines and techniques to create a cohesive work of art.

Her use of vinyl, in particular, has special meaning to her, as her father runs a sign shop in Atlanta. She recalls growing up and seeing him work with the material and believes this has influenced her work as an adult.

The way Sydney uses so many materials in her artwork, including paint, vinyl, plastics and found materials, places her work at the forefront of contemporary ceramics,” Harper said.

Ewerth teaches sophomore Chloe Hodges about the reclaim bin and how to mix clay. Photo by Shelby Pennington.

Ewerth’s Future

Ewerth hopes to stay in her position for two years while continuing to apply for shows and exhibitions. Recently, Ewerth had artwork showing in the Barr Gallery at IU Southeast as well as an exhibition in the Sheherazade Gallery in Louisville, which ran from Feb. 2 through Feb. 28.

After this residency ends, Ewerth expects to move elsewhere and continue to create new work and push boundaries.

Ewerth acknowledges that art has impacted her life and she hopes to show her students how art can impact their lives too.

“I don’t know why I got into art, but I know why I stayed,” Ewerth said.