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Set a place at the table for art

Joleen Oshiro
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A tureen shows the detail that Gail Kendall puts into her ceramic works, filling the negative space in the design with intricate dots.
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With the exception of a stylized whale head, at top, all the pieces shown in the "Baroquecoco" exhibit at Kapiolani Community College's Koa Gallery are utilitarian tableware.
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It is in mixing the traditional with the contemporary, and the utilitarian with fine art, that ceramist Gail Kendall displays the scope of her talent and knowledge, acquired during a career of making and teaching art.

The newly retired art professor, who completed her career at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last month, features various plates, platters and tureens on display at Koa Gallery in "Baroquecoco."

The works display the influence of her art residencies at some of Britain’s high-end china production companies, as well as European earthenware pottery and porcelain traditions from the 13th to 18th centuries.

Yet while floral designs and gold leafing on a couple of tureens, for instance, clearly refer to classic motifs, the vibrant colors, bold renditions and the equal balance of positive and negative space convey an unmistakably contemporary flair.

"Gail is a ceramics historian. That knowledge influences her work but she makes it all feel contemporary. She reinterprets decorative technique," says gallery director David Behlke.

But the fact that Kendall clearly works in the realm of high art is only part of the story. It’s no accident that all but one of the pieces in the show are tableware; they reflect her interest in cooking.


A contemporary view of decorative ceramics by Gail Kendall

On exhibit: Through July 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays (closed July 4)

Where: Koa Gallery, Kapiolani Community College

Call: 734-9374

On the Net: koagallery.kcc.hawaii.edu

To boot, Behlke says all the pieces are utilitarian — they’re even dishwasher-safe — and Kendall wants her work to have its place on the dinner table.

Kendall and Behlke started their teaching careers together in 1974 at Atlantic Community College in New Jersey, just outside Atlantic City.

Both taught in North Dakota next, but after that the colleagues took different paths. Behlke ended up at Kapiolani Community College while Kendall settled in at Nebraska-Lincoln, where she was head of one of the top-ranked ceramics programs in the country.

Over the years, the friends kept in touch through Christmas letters.

When Kendall told Behlke of her plans to retire, he made her promise him this show at Koa Gallery.

The lone nonutilitarian piece in "Baroquecoco" is a stylized whale head from Behlke’s own collection.

"When we met, Gail was doing serious hand-building and ceramic sculpture," he says, referring to shaping clay without a wheel. "This whale expressed how she felt ‘so out of the water’ in New Jersey.

"It’s a good foil for her new work."

Behlke says Kendall has always been at the top of her game, and when they started out, "she was always aware of cutting-edge ceramics of the time. What’s surprised me most is that I never thought she’d do anything traditional."

But whether contemporary or traditional, he says, "what I see in Gail’s work is so sophisticated it’s almost over the top."

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