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Chester County Press

Artist Mitch Lyons to be spotlighted at Delaware Art Museum

08/05/2019 11:38AM ● By J. Chambless

Works by the late New London artist Mitch Lyons will be on display from Sept. 7 to Feb. 2.

Known for his endless curiosity, passionate teaching, and inventive style, clay potter and monoprinter Mitch Lyons is celebrated this fall at the Delaware Art Museum with a posthumous exhibition as part of the Distinguished Artists Series.

On view Sept. 7, 2019, through Feb. 2, 2020, “Mitch Lyons: The Hand Translated” surveys the developments and experimentations in Lyons’ 50-year career as a ceramist, artist, and teacher, which included pioneering the clay monoprint technique. Lyons lived and worked in New London.

“Mitch was innovative in so many different ways, and the exhibition aims to broadly show the breadth of that development,” said Margaret Winslow, Curator of Contemporary Art. “My hope is that the exhibition brings an even greater understanding locally to just how innovative his clay monoprinting process is and how Mitch used that to extraordinary means.”

Lyons received his undergraduate degree in graphic design from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) and continued his studies at Tyler School of Art, where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in ceramics in 1971. He worked as a traditional potter in Chester County until 1980, the pivotal point in his career when he refined his method of printing directly from clay.

Like most traditional potters, Lyons was motivated by a love for the material and described himself as a “clay person making prints.” However, instead of firing the clay to a permanent state, Lyons created a monoprint, capturing a single two-dimensional image of the clay’s surface.

“He knew that the process was really quite interesting, but he was also interested in the final works of art,” Winslow said. “In curating the exhibition, we wanted to showcase the unique place that Mitch found himself, between ceramics and printmaking, and how he, by developing this work, straddled these two traditionally different artistic worlds.”

Lyons’ significant impact on contemporary art in Wilmington began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was involved in early activities at the founding of what is now The Delaware Contemporary, and exhibited in numerous groups and solo exhibitions throughout this region. In 2012, he gifted three monoprints to the museum, each showing a different stage of his development as an artist.

“The Hand Translated” marks the 50th anniversary of Lyons’ development of the clay monoprint technique. Work on the exhibition began in 2017 with Lyons’ involvement. After his death in March 2018, preparation for the exhibition continued with the support of Lyons’ family and friends, as well as a community of artists and collectors who were moved by his work and mentorship.

“Mitch taught in a way that encouraged everyone to find their own personal aesthetic, but at the same time gave them guidance in technical aspects of the ceramic field,” said John Baker, an artist and professor emeritus at West Chester University who studied under Lyons. “He was a mentor and resource to so many of us in the artist community -- not just in the ceramic field but in the art field across the board. He got many of us started and saw our works go into galleries. He was always that resource for me. If I hit a lag in my creative process, I would call Mitch.”

The exhibition gives viewers a comprehensive look at Lyons’ processes and techniques as well as his final works of clay monoprints and pots. The works featured -- prints, pots and found object art -- come from the museum’s collection, as well as private collectors and Lyons’ personal collection.

A documentary, created for the exhibition by the Philadelphia-based Senior Artists Initiative and screened outside the gallery, further captures Lyons’ impact and work through archival footage and interviews. In the fall, the museum also plans to host a studio class led by Meredith Wakefield, the late artist’s wife, and a demo series with Lyons’ former students.

“There are a lot of people who have said that they found their passion for a particular type of art through him, that they loved the clay printing process and the possibilities of it,” Wakefield said. “He touched a lot of lives all over the world with his travels. He was an extremely kind teacher, always willing to share everything about his art. I hope visitors see how much he's contributed to a whole area of art that no one else has explored. I think it's going to be an incredible show, and I know he was very excited to see the exhibition come together. I wish he could be here to see it.”

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