Kersey’s pieces like portable public art you can throw in the dishwasher

To get an idea of the sculptural beauty of coffee mugs crafted by potter Diana Kersey, ride across the Mulberry Street Bridge or the Millrace Bridge leading to the Brackenridge Park Golf Course. Each of these bridges is graced with more than 200 square feet of the artist’s figurative tiles.

At first, I felt silly interviewing someone who recently completed these two major public art installations about coffee mugs, but Kersey put me at ease. Yes, she still loves taking a lump of clay and shaping it into a mug as her potter’s wheel turns.

“Small projects allow me to explore design ideas,” Kersey said. “These small works play into the design elements of larger ones.” Plus, she is never bored because: “No two mugs are exactly alike.”

Gayle Brennan Spencer in San Antonio Taste Magazine, December 2011

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Steve Bennett spotlighted the first bridge Diana Kersey completed on the San Antonio River in a June edition of the San Antonio Express-News:

“The city wanted me to do something on the health of waterways,” Kersey said. “I started thinking about amphibians — you know, if the amphibian life was healthy then the waterway was probably healthy. And in doing my research I learned that the most common toad in this region is the Gulf Coast toad. It’s the one that we all know, that we all run across in our backyards.”

In bas-relief sculptural panels embedded in the bridge’s concrete guardrails above 8-foot sidewalks, Kersey visually tells the story of the life cycle of the toad, from the courting days of Mr. and Mrs. T to strips of frog egg “tape” floating on water to developing tadpoles and “froglets” to the mature toad with the ridges over the eyes and the mouth that turns downward, sort of sadly. The overall effect is a “primordial narrative” like the well-known ape-to-man evolutionary image.

The Millrace Bridge installation was scattered around the tables and floor of her studio when I interviewed Kersey for the story on coffee mugs. The clay since has been glazed and fired to attain striking colors evoking the exuberance of majolica pottery.

Kersey described how she takes clay large-scale in an interview with Gene Elder for Voices of Art Magazine:

I don’t really create ’tiles’ in the traditional sense. I build the panel as one giant piece of clay, and then when it is complete I cut the work up into smaller shapes that can easily be fired, transported and installed. That way the grout lines becomes an important part of the overall design.

Now installed, the panels on the bridge relate to the history of the park and the golf course. Gutzon Borglum, who worked on designs for Mt. Rushmore in his nearby studio, and George Brackenridge, looking a bit dour as one would expect from the man who forbade the consumption of malt beverages on the parkland he donated, are among the relief portraits in clay.

But the story of Queenie the dog stumped me completely? Kersey enlightened me:

Queenie the dog was the beloved dog of Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien was a sportswriter for an early San Antonio paper and a huge fan of golf at Brackenridge. He helped start the Texas Open in the early years. Anyhow, the dog was always by his side and became a bit of a mascot at Old Brack. A portrait of her has hung in the clubhouse for over 60 years and is still there.

Kersey’s mugs are like small slivers of portable public art that you can take home with you – art that can be thrown in the dishwasher. Find Kersey at work in her new studio and showroom downtown in the Atlee Ayers Building at 112 Broadway.

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