Walford Campbell ceramics at A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery

In Vessels: A Journey in Clay by Walford Campbell, Jamaican-born ceramicist Walford Campbell traces an extraordinary creative voyage, delving into an intimate and lifelong relationship with the earth. Vessels will be on display November 25 through December 31, 2022 at the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery (500 N. Indian River Drive in Historic Downtown Fort Pierce).

Over more than four decades, Walford Campbell has grown by balancing and integrating traditional pottery and avant garde sculptural approaches to captivating effect. The exhibition chronicles this artistic journey from Jamaica to England, from England to Jamaica and the wider world, and then from Jamaica to Florida and today. Vessels also contends with the lessons Campbell has learned about life through the studio: the resilience of clay, how to creatively adapt to injury and limitations; and the mystery of the vessel’s purpose to accept, just as the artist must learn to accept instruction from teachers and students to grow and progress.

Ceramics is one of the oldest technologies that humanity knows, yet today it is also an art form, revered for its elegant and expressive capabilities in the gifted hands of artists and artisans,” J. Marshall Adams, executive director of the Backus Museum, said. “Campbell’s work is rooted in that functional craft but explores the boundaries beyond the practical and into the abstract, in a deep and satisfying way.” Adams adds, “He’s asking questions, and is finding beautifully compelling answers.”

The December 2 Members Opening Reception for Vessels: A Journey in Clay by Walford Campbell is 6:00-8:00 pm, free of charge to Museum Members, not-yet members $20 (or join at the door and enjoy free access to all exhibitions and receptions for the year). The artist will be in attendance.

“Since I first saw a pot being thrown on the wheel, I was hooked on pottery … from then I could think of nothing better to do with my life.” – Walford Campbell

About the Artist

Walford Alfred Campbell was born in Hanover, Jamaica in 1960. Entrusting his care to his grandmother and great-grandmother, his parents left for more promising possibilities in the United Kingdom. Campbell spent the formative years of his childhood building abiding and nourishing memories of the Caribbean, from its colorful festivals to the cacao pods near the stream on his grandmother’s farm. These memories would later sustain and inform his artistic travels.

By 1970, a 9-year old Campbell embarked on the first passage of his creative journey, joining his parents in England. Adapting to the radically different island environment of the Midlands, he completed his secondary education and began his preliminary studies at the Walsall School of Arts and Crafts (now Walsall College). At the conclusion of his foundational work, he enrolled at Derby Lonsdale College (now University of Derby) where he would specialize in ceramics, with pottery production in mind.

Following his graduation, Campbell found a way to apply his new skills and exercise the innate empathy of a teacher, by taking a position as a ceramics instructor at a residential facility caring for adults with learning disabilities, Solden Hill House in the village of Byfield, at the northern edge of the Cotswolds. It was at this point in his developing career that he started a correspondence with Jamaica’s Master Potter, Cecil Baugh (1908-2005), who had also studied in England. The elder artist was impressed, and perhaps saw himself in the younger potter. With an invitation from Baugh, in 1995 Campbell joined the faculty at the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts (now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts) in Kingston.

Beyond the classroom, in 1987 he would establish a ceramic workshop at the Mustard Seed Community Center in Mona Common. Here on the outskirts of Kingston, he passed along his skills and talents in clay to combat poverty and provide education. The workshop went on to establish a cottage industry of local pottery manufacturing, uplifting the community and earning Campbell the Prime Minister’s Award for Outstanding Work in Ceramics.

Subsidizing his teaching salary, Campbell would also soon found his own production studio and hired staff to meet the growing demand for his graceful and polished utility ware. The artist enjoyed creative successes throughout the Caribbean, in Germany and in Japan. But only a few years later, Jamaica experienced a steep 25% rise in inflation and the collapse of the island nation’s currency in the early 1990s. Campbell’s path shifted again with a necessary move to Miami, Florida in 1995. Here he relocated and renewed his passion to produce both functional and sculptural ceramics, focusing on surface decoration and large forms.

His creative journey has continued for more than 20 years in South Florida. Campbell’s teaching, exhibitions and art shows, and refined studio practice embody an artistic balance that seeks acceptance from the earth and from himself. Today he lives and works in Port St. Lucie.

About the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery

Since its founding in 1960 and the first day the doors opened in 1961, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery has been a center and catalyst for creativity and culture in our region. The Museum houses the nation’s largest public presentation of artwork by Florida’s preeminent painter, A.E. “Bean” Backus (1906-1990), and is home to the state’s only permanent multimedia exhibition on the Florida Highwaymen. In addition to preserving and perpetuating the artistic and humanitarian legacy of Backus, the Museum organizes and hosts changing exhibitions from artists of regional, national and international acclaim. The Backus Museum was recognized as the 2022 Best of the Best Community Choice Award for Best Art Gallery; and the 2021 Best Tourist Attraction – 2018 Best Museum / Best of the Treasure Coast by the readers of Indian River Magazine.

Regular Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM; Sunday, 12 Noon to 4 PM (closed Monday-Tuesday). Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day; closing early at 2:00 pm, December 24.

Admission is $5 per person; AARP, AAA, and Veterans with appropriate ID receive a $2 discount. Students with school ID, children under 18, active duty military, and current members are always free.

Visitors are asked to follow the latest public health guidance for the safety and comfort of guests, staff, and volunteers.

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