Tom Manhart crossed the divide between functionality and art. A coffee mug could be a statement on form and design, and a woven piece of cloth could star in an art exhibition. As an art professor at TU from 1962 to 1999, Manhart not only molded ceramics but also shaped his students into critically thinking artists. Seventeen years after his death, Manhart’s students are coming together to celebrate a man who transformed their art careers and mentored their artistic souls. October 6-26, the dual art exhibit Eloquent Craftsman: Thomas A. Manhart and his Students will be showcased at the Living Arts of Tulsa and The University of Tulsa’s Alexandre Hogue Gallery. On Thursday, October 5 at 5:00 p.m. the TU School of Art is honored to kick off the exhibit with a reception in the Alexandre Hogue Gallery in Phillips Hall. On Friday, October 6 the Manhart exhibit opens at the Living Arts of Tulsa on First Friday at 6:00 p.m.
Steve Liggett (MA ’77) the former artistic director of Living Arts of Tulsa spearheaded this extensive project four years ago. “When he died, it was my feeling that he was so important that TU would pick up this great idea of having a retrospective of his work,” Liggett said. As it turned out, the body of work was so extensive it required both galleries. The show will feature Manhart’s work and work from 43 of his students. “It’s a combination of his work and his legacy, which are his students,” he added.
Liggett and Shirley Elliott (BA ’95, MA ’97) carefully combed through class lists to reach out to Manhart’s former students who are still creating art. The stories they collected along with Manhart’s biography are detailed in the exhibition catalogue. Memories of water gun fights in Phillips Hall and trying to cook clay-wrapped chicken in a kiln highlight Manhart’s light-hearted side, but many students remember his unforgettable critiques. One famous remark was “that looks like a fat lady on a bar stool,” Liggett laughed. “He was an exaggerator of information, and that’s the way he talked.”
Tom Manhart and his wife, Marcia, co-organized the internationally famous exhibit The Eloquent Object, and they co-edited the related book. From glass work to clay, Manhart enjoyed all mediums. His work was rooted in research and technical expertise. Katherine Ross (MA ’80) would spend weeks researching glazes for Manhart. “If you’re making an object, the skill must be there too, or it doesn’t communicate what you want it to communicate,” Ross explained. In conjunction with the Manhart art show, Ross, chair of ceramics at School of Art Institute of Chicago will review graduate TU students’ work and present a lecture The Unseen and Misremembered on Wednesday, October 4 at 11:00 a.m. in the Jerri Jones Lecture Hall.
Artwork was not to be sequestered in museums. Manhart even designed his own art tools. “He was the example of living arts,” Elliot said. “His art permeated everything about his life.”
Manhart was dedicated to promoting the arts in Tulsa. He served on the board of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, Living Arts of Tulsa, Tulsa Designer Craftsmen and Oklahoma Designer Craftsmen. During this period, his wife was the director of Philbrook Museum, and together they helped developed the art culture in Tulsa.
Manhart enriched his students lives by encouraging them to study the objects around them. Kreg Kallenberger (BA ’72, MS ’77) said, “he impressed upon me the deification of objects.” There was nothing too insignificant to become a provocative piece of art. “It’s the things that you handle every day that you need to make the most beautiful,” Liggett said.
Jane Lyon (Duenner)