Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prof's frog art hops into competition

By Alison Haywood, A&E Reporter

One Pacific Lutheran art professor came up with a new way to get students to appreciate his work: turning it into a contest.

Visiting Instructor of Art and Design Steven Sobeck has spent the last three years making more than 50 ceramic pots, each of which is decorated with one to five large frogs.

The pots will be displayed in the University Gallery Annex March 6 through April 9. Students and staff will have the opportunity to guess the total number of frogs in the display case. A winner will be drawn from the names of guessers who get it right.

The prize? One of the pots themselves, valued at around $1,000.

“It [the contest] will force students to look closer at the details, to be more involved in it,” Sobeck said. “That’s the essence of what I want from the show.”

Sobeck graduated from PLU in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in art. He said he always knew he was going to be a maker of things and describes clay as “a good friend of mine.”

After teaching at Tacoma Community College for 12 years, he returned to PLU in 2000 to teach ceramics.

“He is a very loved professor,” Outreach Coordinator for the School of Arts and Communication Mandy Brady said. “I think he is able to connect with students well.”

Brady is helping promote the event inside and outside the PLU community.

Sobeck started making frogs at the request of his granddaughter and has been doing it for about three years.

“I said [to my granddaughter], ‘Papa don’t make frogs, he’s a sophisticated artist. I don’t do dumb stuff like this,’” Sobeck said. “Worst came to worst and I just couldn’t stop.”

While at TCC, Sobeck worked in colleague Carlton Ball’s department. Sobeck said Ball taught him the importance of generosity.

“He [Ball] told me, ‘I only get to keep what I give away … When you give something to someone, you end up keeping it in your heart,’” Sobeck said. “Well, I took that to heart, and I started giving things away.”

Sobeck said this was the inspiration behind Unknown Craftsmen, a 2010 project in which he gave away unsigned handmade bowls to students studying away. These students were asked to give away these pieces or leave them somewhere on their travels, according to South Sound magazine.

Public relations major sophomore Kiera Carpenter is advertising the event as an independent study course.

She said Sobeck’s passion for art made this event possible.

“He did all these pots on his own and he just wants to share with the student body,” Carpenter said.

Brady said one of her favorite things about the contest is the way it involves people.

“Usually art is very one-way. I mean, that’s really not art’s intent,” Brady said. “Its intent is to capture people in conversation, and I think just a simple process of looking intently at all these pieces and counting the frogs will get people to … really look and see what the piece is all about.”

Sobeck’s work will be featured in Centered on the Northwest, an invitational show featuring Northwest clay artists at the Clay Art Center in Tacoma March 26 through April 5.