“It’s all about the process,” the installation artist said. “Palm Prints,” the roughly 10-by-16-foot piece she created for her master’s thesis exhibition in Bowling Green State University’s Willard Wankelman Gallery, is meant to evoke water droplets at the moment they strike the ground and are briefly suspended before dispersing. Viewed from above, the scene is reminiscent of sand on a rainy day, the droplets creating concentric circles. The surface rises and falls in a gentle rippling effect, reaching peaks in some places and low valleys in others.
Made of unglazed, fired porcelain of subtly varying shades of cream and pale taupe, the “folds” have the delicate appearance of a wasp’s nest tubes. Though they appear joined, the pieces are carefully set in place and can be reconfigured endlessly. “Palm Prints,” which took about three days to assemble, is only the latest of many incarnations, Bardsley said.
After all that, isn’t she loath to take it apart? The answer is an emphatic no. “In fact, the hard part comes about three-quarters of the way through, when I am already envisioning the next piece and it’s hard to make myself finish this one,” she said.
Her work is the result of “a year and a half of sitting on the floor, pounding out porcelain folds. It’s so intimate — each one bears my palm print and a memory of the moment,” she said. The process involves taking a small piece of clay, throwing it down on the floor and pressing it out like pastry dough, repeating the process about three times and then gently folding it in her palm.
“Repetition is about the only cohesive theme in my work,” she said — that, and the natural hues and organic forms of the folds. The rhythm of their creation reoccurs in the act of arranging them into a design. “It’s like a giant puzzle. It’s so intimate. You’ve handled each one so many times, you know what these objects want to do. You find their natural rhythm and it evolves into a ripple effect.”
Bardsley did not always work in this style. She developed it after coming to BGSU for her master’s program. She met BGSU ceramics faculty member John Balistreri when she was an artist-in-residence at the St. Petersburg Clay Co. in Florida. He is now her master’s committee chair. “He’s amazing. He doesn’t hover but he steps in at all the right times,” she said.
After graduating from Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, Bardsley stayed on a few years as a studio assistant to her teacher, ceramicist Paula Winokur, who works in large-scale porcelain sculptures. Then came the residency in Florida and her encounter with Balistreri. “Meeting John was a turning point for me,” she said, also crediting BGSU art faculty members Joe Pintz, Lou Krueger and Shawn Morin as important mentors.
What is next for this artist? Bardsley is not sure; the total focus required by her current work left little time to plan, but she says she would like to take her boxes of porcelain folds and go west. “I’d like to see them outside, in different settings and places. It’s been a long, hard, two years and I think I want to go on the road with them to places I’ve never been.”