Holland Hall’s Holliman Gallery proudly presents a duo exhibition of new ceramics featuring Linda Stilley and Sarah Bliss. “SHAPE” will run from August 17 through October 27. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Family & Children’s Services Women in Recovery, an alternative program for women facing prison sentences for non-violent, drug-related offenses.
“Shaping clay, shaping my life, shaping my surrounding and shaping those who experience my teaching is exhausting and exhilarating,” Stilley said. Before her retirement from teaching in 2000, Stilley was heavily involved in the international school at Booker T. Washington High School. One of those students was Sarah Bliss.
Bliss became serious about art and ceramics in Stilley’s classroom. “She really helped me grow as an artist,” Bliss said. As a result, Bliss received her bachelor’s degree in sculpture from the University of Oklahoma. Despite her passion for art, she felt a calling to practice medicine. “I thought that in order to be a better artist, I needed more life experience. I needed to understand other people’s lives, not just my own.” As a result, she put her artistic life on hold and attended medical school. Today she works as an in-patient psychiatrist at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital. “I’m so glad that psychiatry is part of medicine. It’s interesting how complementary it is to art. You have to focus on the patient’s story, you need a well-developed sense of empathy with human experience, and you’re very interested in the subconscious and what might be found there,” she said.
Bliss’s experience in Stilley’s classroom ignited a passion for art. Today, Stilley is still teaching at Family & Children’s Services Women in Recovery (WIR), igniting a healing through art. Stilley began volunteering with WIR because she was drawn to the WIR’s mission. “I didn’t want to volunteer to volunteer – I wanted to help something I believe in,” she said. “They [WIR] are doing more than rehabilitating these women – they are rehabilitating the human spirit.” Art has the capacity to help WIR women move into a healthier space to cope with addictions, emotional events, and trauma.
Besides her dedication to teaching, Stilley is also recognized as a major clay artist studying with Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu, Paul Soldner and the late Tom Manhart. After exploring clay for 25 years, it was fast becoming a canvas for her increasing urge to paint. In 1984 she studied monoprint with the late Robert Gordy. That and her trip to Peru became the pivotal points that changed her direction completely. Her journey from clay to paper and canvas paralleled her journey through spiritual transformation (the result of her experiences in Peru and many other travels and quests for spiritual understanding). All have fueled her interests in symbols, sacred geometry, and the collective unconscious. Stilley explained, “Going full circle from clay to painting to clay, and now a combination of the two, has revealed a deeper need for me to work with controlled surprises.”
After a 20-year hiatus from clay, Stilley ran into Bliss. Once again she became her student’s sounding board, muse and friend. Then Bliss became the same for her former mentor, inspiring and teaching Stilley. From that encounter, “SHAPE” was born.
Inspired by the beauty and undercurrents that run through nature that humans often isolate themselves from, Bliss believes that there is healing in the animals and the quiet places that exist in the world. “When I picked up a piece of clay a year ago, I had no idea in what direction it would take me,” she said, “But I’ve started each piece the same way, allowing the clay to take its own shape. I think of the animals as emerging, revealing themselves slowly as I work.”
Stilley was challenged by making something happen in her work that felt like going back in time, yet was also contemporary. “I’m not a storyteller, but do I want to take the viewer somewhere? Yes. Hopefully, they can become a traveler to a familiar place that has no words,” she said.
Stilley believes in growth – growth through art. Bliss said, “I believe there is always hope. For me, the act of creating, simply making art for art’s sakes, is a very hopeful thing indeed.”
August 17- October 27
Holland Hall Holliman Gallery
5666 East 81st Street
Gallery hours are M-F 8:15 a.m.-5 p.m.
Open to the public
Related story in the Tulsa world: Arts Scene: Holland Hall hosts benefit arts show
About Family & Children’s Services Women in Recovery
Women in Recovery (WIR) is an intensive outpatient alternative for eligible women facing long prison sentences for non-violent, drug-related offenses. Operated by Family & Children’s Services in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, WIR works closely with the criminal justice system and various community partners to ensure program participants receive supervision, substance abuse and mental health treatment, education, workforce readiness training and family reunification services.