Memphis potters Brin Armstrong Baucum and Dale Baucum have received an honor rarely given to working artists.
"Double Vision: A Retrospective in Clay," showing at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens through Oct. 14, displays a hundred individual and joint works as the couple celebrate the 40th anniversary of their marriage and entwined careers.
The Baucums work together in the studio at their home on Lyndale Avenue near Rhodes College. Dale expresses their philosophy on the baucumpottery.com website: "Working with clay is a type of art that rejuvenates us every day that we encounter it. ... Every different pot has its own space, its own time, and unique life."
Dixon director Kevin Sharp was introduced to their work through the couple's participation in the museum's February pottery sale. "I would see them once a year at the show," he said. "Then we began to talk; they're two of the most delightful people you ever want to meet."
"Around 2010, they mentioned that their 40th anniversary as a couple and as artists was coming up. And it seemed like an opportunity to celebrate that anniversary with an exhibition. Associate curator Julie Pierotti and I went over on a studio visit. We saw this incredible progression of works from 1972 to the present."
Sharp's vision of the exhibition expanded from a small event into the multi-gallery installation that visitors can see today. He suggested that the couple cap the chronological display of four decades with something entirely new, without specifying what direction that might take.
"I didn't say, 'Produce these fabulous tiles,'" he says. "I mentioned that it would be great to have something in the show that no one had ever seen. They took it to a level of creativity that I could never have imagined."
The result is a final gallery filled with stunning tile panel compositions, a career first for both artists.
The Baucums met before they both attended the Memphis Academy of Arts (now the Memphis College of Art). Dale says, "Forty-one years ago, we did the first arts fair in Nashville, Tenn. — TACA — and we met there. One of the unique things about us is that we've supported ourselves for 40 years — two children, college, all of that stuff. Our children grew up in the studio with us. Brin was a photographer for the first 10 years I was making pottery."
In the exhibition's first section, which displays works from the 1970s, visitors can see examples of Brin's black-and-white photography. Dale's earliest pots include salt-glazed jugs and vases that have a strong link with the Southern regional pottery tradition.
Dale's style began to change when he discovered English and Japanese pottery. As influences, he cites Michael Cardew (1901-1983), an English studio potter who came to Memphis in 1972, as well as Bernard Leach (1887-1979) and Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), who worked together in the 1920s to revitalize the international studio pottery movement.
After their second child was born, Brin Baucum also began to work in clay. Unlike her husband, she did not throw pots on a wheel, and, most strikingly, she used real plants to create designs on her forms rather than painting patterns by hand.
"The leaf just told me what to do, and that's what I did," she says. "I use ferns a lot. We have a fern bed where we grow our own. Most of the leaves on these pieces are from our own yard."
Over four decades, the couple has created joint works that bear incised initial marks or "chops" for both artists. Yet they have retained distinctive styles. Viewers at the exhibition will be challenged to pick out which are his or hers or simply theirs. Many may have preferences for certain works from a certain period, but the exhibition is most fascinating when seen as a journey of artistic transformation.
Brin emphasizes: "We've never had a production 'line' because we do what we want to do. We learned that we need to march to our own drummer."
Brin and Dale Baucum: ‘Double Vision: A Retrospective in Clay'
Through Oct. 14 at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4339 Park. For more information: 901-761-5250 or dixon.org.
Collectors interested in acquiring the Baucums’ work can find pieces in the Dixon museum shop and at Babcock Gifts, 4626 Poplar, and at their studio show Aug. 24-26 at 1864 Lyndale.