I’ve always been a big fan of Tom Rippon. His distinctive, whimsical ceramics remind me of a cross between "Alice in Wonderland" and Dr. Seuss, with a touch of Picasso thrown in there as body parts do not necessarily end up in the usual places.

Even the titles he selects for his pieces are delightful: "A Woman Tossing Her Own Salad." Although you might not immediately visualize what the piece will look like when seeing the title, when you see the piece itself, it humorously fits.

Rippon was known for imaginative narrative pieces that embody humorous personal stories. Pieces like "Balancing Act," which seems to depict the balancing act of a parent, features a musical instrument, a baseball, a dinner plate, and a tennis ball all balanced on a half-submerged head. I think it might be my head, actually. He playfully tells the story of the overcommitted parent in a comical way.

Rippon used multiple processes to create his porcelain sculptures, which include manipulating individual components in wet clay; carving, sawing and sanding dry clay; and acrylic paints, pencil, underglaze and lusters for coloration. The result is an unprecedented style that has been revered by ceramicists worldwide.

Rippon was on the faculty of the UM School of Art for almost 20 years, and when he died in 2010 he left behind hundreds of students influenced by his distinctive style, and two idiosyncratic public pieces of art for the city of Missoula. On the east wall of the PAR/TV Center on campus is Rippon’s "Tree of Art" ceramic wall mural, and bronze sculpture "Proper Shoppers" can be found at the Mountain Line Transfer Center.

His work has been exhibited in private and public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Montana Museum of Art and Culture.

"A Woman Tossing Her Own Salad" is part of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture’s permanent collection and can be viewed, along with 119 equally interesting pieces, at the Paxson and Meloy galleries on the University of Montana Campus in the PAR/TV Center. MMAC’s exhibit “Art of the State: Celebrating 120 Years of the MMAC Permanent Collection” runs through May 23.

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