Not being a Pittsburgh native myself, I was unaware of the event called “Unblurred” that happens on Penn Ave. in the Garfield neighborhood on the first Friday night of every month. It is an evening where every gallery, shop, and studio opens their doors to the community to come and enjoy taking a leisurely stroll in and out of each building, appreciating the art, buying a piece or two, or picking up something you simply can’t find anywhere else. It was this night of camaraderie that I found myself visiting Laura Jean McLaughlin in her own studio at 5111 Pen Ave.
Arriving around 6:30 PM meant that things weren’t in full swing yet, but I was able to chat with Laura Jean and browse her collection of art. Laura has her own signature and style, as every artist typically does, but the thing that stuck out the most to me was how you could go past the same painting or sculpture 10 times and each time see something different. There are so many elements to her masterpieces that all combine to create a work unlike anything the viewer has seen before. I must have circled her studio a dozen times soaking it all in!
As I’ve learned more and more about Laura, it became clear that her work is known not only within the Pittsburgh community but around the world. Her ceramic work has been featured in numerous periodicals including Germany’s Neue Karamik, Korean Ceramic Art Monthly, American Craft Magazine, and Poetic Expressions of Mortality. She has pieces exhibited in over 100 galleries and museums across the nation such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Ohio Craft Museum, and Delf Norona Museum in West Virginia, and other works can be found in Texas, Maryland and Alabama. Through her own studio in Pittsburgh, her multiple residencies, and several awarded grants, Laura has been making her mark on the art world for over two decades and expresses no intention of slowing down now. Her collaborative mosaic mural, Unity Shards, being featured at the 2018 NCECA conference, is a small part of the depth that is the artist, Laura Jean McLaughlin. Find out more about Laura and her work here.
Connecting with Laura Jean over the past few weeks in her Garfield studio has further deepened my insight into how committed she is to making community part of creation. Laura encourages an atmosphere of togetherness within her studio, offering food, drinks, and laughs. She even houses several pieces from fellow artists, allowing them to display their work in her space. I began to also learn more about her many collaborative mosaic projects, how they involve schools or community groups to create. Using her talent, she has managed to bring people from all walks of life together to create beautiful, lasting works that inspire and brighten the world, one place at a time.
After exploring Laura’s studio, I stepped back out onto the sidewalk and strolled up and down the avenue. All the storefronts showed a buzz of activity within, from gallery observers to a small percussion band performing, to workshop spaces that were open for public participation. Every person I came across was kind and smiling, and the sense of friendship through art was apparent everywhere I went. Everyone seemed to either know one another or want to welcome newcomers with open arms. It was a beautiful evening in so many ways.
Another first Friday Unblurred event is happening this evening, March 2 on Penn Avenue. Ceramic art will be featured not only at the Clay Penn, but in Sharif Bey’s “dialogues in CLAY+GLASS” at Pittsburgh Glass Center, in the group exhibition Exposure and Stephanie Kantor’s “Not Yet But Soon” opening at Bunker Projects, where “Ceramicidal Tendencies” will also be on view at the time of the conference. Other nearby venues include Tim Roda’s Strictly Functional: Ceramic Vessel as Camera at Silver Eye Center for Photography.
The vibrant art community of Garfield is this kind of place that exudes senses of belonging that reflect the goals of Laura Jean’s Unity Shards project taking place at the 52nd annual NCECA conference, CrossCurrents: Clay and Culture. Laura’s community creation interactions on “Unity Shards” begins in Projects Space with a public reception on Tuesday evening March 13, and continue March-14-16, 2018. Laura’s project offers an opportunity to participate in a week of unity at a time when the world faces such division. Laura Jean’s collaborative mosaic work in Projects Space occupies a central spot at the NCECA conference and is open to the public, even those not registered for the conference. To find out more information or how you, too, can play a role in the mosaic’s creation, please visit our post, “Unity Shards: A Collaborative Mosaic.”