Having grown up using mountains as a way to navigate, moving from Anchorage, Alaska, to Lawrence would take some getting used to for Lawrence Arts Center ceramics artist-in-residence Kyla Strid.
Searching the Kansas skyline for the tall landmark wasn’t exactly an easy habit to break. Strid did, however, find her own mountains here in the form of a Midwest icon.
“I miss that range of mountains like you wouldn’t believe,” Strid says. “In a weird way it’s sort of like creating a range of mountains that happen to be out of grain elevators. It’s sort of like making home very much about where you are without forgetting where you came from.”
Strid incorporated the notion of embracing her new home in her exhibition, “Waggle Dance,” open at the Arts Center as of last Friday and running through July 25. On a mounted shelf, cylinders in different sizes line the gallery wall, their surfaces painted with a gradient glaze finish — from yellow to green — to resemble the grain elevators Strid saw from a bike path in Burroughs Creek Park.
“It looks like abstract expressionist painting,” she says.
On the bottoms of the cylinders, she marks her initials “ks” — she quickly noticed she shared initials with Kansas — and a dot to signify the starting point of this project in two ways.
“I made it here, and I made it in response to here,” Strid says.
Her intention for the mounted cylinders is to create a three-dimensional landscape painting against the wall, the entire collection speaking to one another in a very musical way, Strid says.
Across from the cylinders are tiles lined against the opposite wall with single stalks of grass painted on the surfaces. Every day for a week, Strid walked up and down a mile-stretch of land by the Kansas River levee photographing the grass sticking out from a blanket of winter snow. Juxtapositioning these two components of her exhibition across from each other, she’s creating a path for viewers to walk down, much like the one she traveled for this work.
“Waggle Dance” refers to the path Strid took to become a ceramist. When she first arrived at the Arts Center and heard they were planning on getting a beehive on the roof, she found some parallels between bees and herself.
“The bees take this route and report back,” she says. “They go out and survey the area for resources and they come back and do this little dance and report what they found.
People compare my path to this wiggly line.”
She made about 200 small sake “buzz cup” glasses with bees painted on the surfaces to start this project (inspired by the play on words), and it unraveled into an entire analogy for her life thus far, leading to the other works in the exhibition.
Strid began college as an engineering major at the Colorado School of Mines. After one year, she transferred to University of Alaska Anchorage, where she started exploring other options: philosophy, theater, photography and painting.
“I was actually pretty far along toward my painting degree, and then I switched again and ended up ceramics,” she says.
The degree to which it challenged her made her more invested in the field.
“I was terrible at it when I first started, like really bad,” she says. “I had never sucked so bad at anything.”
Strid also liked the demanding presence a ceramic work held; it’s a painting you can touch and incorporate into your life in a tactile way, she says.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in Anchorage, she spent a few years doing both short- and long-term residencies, a post-baccalaureate program at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and getting her MFA at the challenging fine arts program at Ohio University. She then spent two months in Denmark as a resident artist before taking the artist-in-residence sport at the Arts Center here.
Strid hasn’t slowed down or simplified her journey yet. A few months after her arrival, she obtained the studio manager position at the Arts Center, clocking 12- to 16-hour days regularly, while working on her exhibition, teaching two adult ceramics classes, and overseeing all studios in the building whether its upkeep, corresponding with other teachers, keeping materials in stock and acting as support staff wherever necessary.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Strid says.
As demanding as her schedule may be now, come August when her residency ends, she’s excited she won’t be leaving Lawrence.
“I think Lawrence is a really amazing town with a phenomenal art scene and a really great community of people, not just in the Arts Center but at large,” Strid says. “Just bumping into people on Mass. Street, everyone is super interesting and supportive, it seems like.”