Community invited to help ArtPrize competitor complete sculpture

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of Church's art installation, Ancestor.

Church's art installation, "Ancestor"

KALAMAZOO—With ArtPrize just weeks away, one exhibitor is inviting community members into his assigned exhibition venue to finish his massive competition sculpture, called "Ancestor."

From noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, Kalamazoo ceramic artist Shay Church will welcome members of the public to help him as he applies wet clay to his ArtPrize entry. The is being installed on the fifth floor of the Western Michigan University Center-Downtown, located at 200 Ionia Ave. SW in Grand Rapids.

This is the second time Church's work has been exhibited at ArtPrize. His 2009 "Gray Whale" entry also was finished using volunteers to apply wet clay to the site-specific creation. A time-lapse video chronicling that installation is available online at


This year's entry by Church is a sculpture of a large tree he says is reminiscent of one that has fallen in a forest. The root system rises high overhead and the trunk extends for some 60 feet along the exhibition area. The basic wooden armature, or framework, is completed, and on Sept. 6, wet clay will be applied by the artist and all who come to be part of the initiative. The clay will then crack as it dries, and the sculpture will be ready for ArtPrize, which opens Sept. 18 and runs through Oct. 6.

Installations of his large pieces in the past, Church says, have attracted families with children, professionals from offices in the area, staff members from nearby buildings and various other volunteers.

"I love working with people who have never even used clay before," Church says. "Volunteers end up taking ownership over the area I give them to work on and refuse to leave until its finished. I'm always amazed to see the outcome. It's a truly 'hands-on' affair".

This is the first year the WMU Center-Downtown has been an official ArtPrize venue, although in 2012, a giant "Epic Broncos" building wrap by North Carolina artist Revere La Noue was timed to coincide with the communitywide event. This year, the fifth-floor exhibition space will showcase 32 ArtPrize entries that represent the work of some 75 artists, with some individual entries the product of collaborations involving groups of artists.

Artists whose work will be shown at the University's facility include WMU faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as some non-WMU artists, including collaborative teams from Kellogg Community College and Ferris State University's Architecture and Sustainability Program.

Shay Church

Church, a 2000 alumnus of WMU's Frostic School of Art, earned his master's degree from San Jose State University. He was an assistant professor of art and head of the ceramic area at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently an adjunct faculty member at WMU. His works have been exhibited across the nation in solo exhibitions and as part of major art conferences. He resides in Kalamazoo.


To celebrate WMU's part in ArtPrize this year, there will be a venue reception at the WMU Center-Downtown on opening weekend of the exhibition. Alumni, students and the general public are invited to visit the center from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.