July 24th, 2024

Old beehive kilns at Medalta get a ‘House Life’

By Mo Cranker on August 24, 2017.


Medalta’s latest exhibit definitely has some buzz surrounding it.

What began as a concept nearly two years ago, and created over two months this year, the new House Life exhibit at Medalta takes over one of the dormant beehive kilns at the historic clay district to turn it into a whole new experience.

“We originally pitched the idea to Aaron Nelson about two years ago about insulating one of the kilns,” said Laura Vickerson, one of two artists who worked on the exhibit. “After discussing it a little, we decided that it would be the two of us working inside of the kiln as part of the residency program.”

Most Medicine Hatters have made at least one trip to Medalta and have taken a tour of the large onsite beehive kilns, but Vickerson and her longtime friend Penelope Stewart have transformed one of them into an experience based around bees and history — to put it extremely simply.

“The kilns were used as a place in the early 20th century for guys riding the rails to have a place to sleep in,” said Vickerson. “I was thinking of the kiln with the idea of it being like a home, and I related that to the hive being a bee’s home. Another big thing was the domestic dishware that was made there. Those ideas all came together really, and that’s where the House Life idea came from.”

Not only is the exhibit in a beehive kiln, and not only did Vickerson make quilts shaped as hexagons out of fabric, but these were actually dipped in beeswax. Stewart also made moulds of a lot of old dishware out of beeswax to add another layer of meaning to the exhibit.

“We decided to call it House Life because of, well, there’s a lot of double meanings,” she said. “The life of the kiln as a space, the dishware that was produced, as well as a sense of an overarching theme that looked at the site as a place of transformation. We thought of these layered meanings that essentially, during the Depression, people who were riding the rails would sleep inside the kilns at night to stay warm. That’s a very important part of the history and we wanted people to come and ask about the history of the kiln. Medalta was a great place to work and it has such a great history.”

One of the many unique parts of the exhibit is the amount of beeswax used, and the two women agreed that the smell and look of the substance adds a lot to House Life.

“I think the beeswax adds to the exhibit and it’s definitely part of it,” Stewart said. “I’ve done immersive work in the past, and even have built entire rooms out of beeswax, so that smell and the thoughts that come from the wax really are a big part of the exhibit. I think it really gets people thinking while they’re looking at the exhibit.”

To learn more about the exhibit go to, http://www.medalta.org/house-life.

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