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Small scale art part of bigger picture for Professor Tupa

Another commissioned ceramic piece in another law firm is small in scale, but also part of an increasingly big picture for Professor of Fine Arts and Division Chair Dana Tupa.

Tupa, who works with Soren Christensen Gallery in New Orleans and has several corporate considerations, recently added to her Floor Sweeps project as commissioned by the Chicago firm Levin Schreder Carey.

“I have work in many corporate collections,’’ Tupa said. “For whatever reason, I don’t know, I have a lot of work in law firms. That’s how it happens to be. My work is not gender specific, it’s non-descript, it’s object representational so it works great in corporate settings. By happenstance, objects are what I love to make and that’s what corporations need to have that’s not sending a direct message so to speak.’’

Much of her work, both corporate and otherwise, comes from two primary sources.

dana“All of my work is based on memories and conversations I have with people,’’ Tupa said. “This particular piece came from a conversation I had with a World War II veteran, it could have been 15 years ago. He worked in an aviation firm and the only thing he could do to help in the effort was to sweep the floor. They were building war planes so quickly; all of these parts would fall to the ground. They would sweep the floor and whatever was on the floor was put in bags and sold to the public like a grab-bag. I thought that story was fascinating and did some research on what might have been in the bags.  It was a lot of nuts and bolts that would get dropped. I chose six varieties and sculpted them.’’

The works aren’t merely tossed together but are the result of a pattern of thought that began as a child and has taken Tupa to mastering her craft to the point of getting ceramics off the pedestal and on the wall.

In her youth, Tupa watched the items people held on to from any event. Through time she has investigated why and believes it is so they don’t have to catalog everything.

“They don’t have to rely on their brains,’’ she said. “They can look at whatever that object is, which appealed to them enough to make them take it, and it jogs whatever their experience was. Experience to me is not universal. We’re going to have different experiences at the same event.’’

She also was quizzical about the fascination people have with collections of any sort.

“What I’ve concluded is there is an inherent human need to recollect and these collections help us remember,’’ she said. “You’re recording your life. For who? Who knows? It’s going to be important to somebody someday. They pass on, their collection goes where? I looked at how we pass things down and started turning that into art work,’’ she said.

And in refining her processes she has learned how to, in fact, make her ceramics wall art.

“When I came to JU in 2001, I had already been selling art and doing corporate art, university collections and such, but I was really interested in different avenues of exhibiting,’’ she said. “It was important to me to try to get clay objects off the pedestal and get them in formats people would be used to seeing what they would deem art work. So I started wall mounting everything and the work sprung from there- another reason it makes it easy for corporations to display.’’

Additionally, of great importance to her is how her work translates to her students.

“This commission, and we as professors modeling what we do to students, is really important to me,’’ she said. “If I can continue my practice and get my work in public venues, when I talk to students about getting their work out it is the bigger fuller picture.’’

– Jim Nasella