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'Just a little uncomfortable' ceramic exhibit probes intimacy

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Four ceramic cups display Stephanie Dishno’s self portrait of a woman blending into the wallpaper behind her.

It’s meant to share Dishno’s introverted side, and is one of 100 individual unique designs coming to the Clay Studio of Missoula that center on the intimate moments of home and femininity.

Now finishing her two years of residency at the Missoula studio, Dishno has presented her largest exhibit to date with “This is all just a little uncomfortable” — a collection of figures, illustrations and cups that explores Dishno’s thoughts on vulnerabilities as a woman and the messy human nature.

Each cup is similar in size, but depicts variations of the female form. Each is painted on white background with laser-detailed images of people's lives, often framed by the background of the subject’s home.

Some depict partners in love or quarreling, others show more lighthearted connections with friends. Some show the subject isolated, entranced by their day-to-day tasks.

It's a new medium for Dishno, who usually creates larger-than-life ceramic pieces of humans and animals. Dishno said she wanted to try a new gallery with smaller pieces in three different sets.

“Individually each piece reads as a snapshot in time, much like a chapter in a book,” Dishno said in her artist statement. “Together the figures and cups create a story from my perspective and curiosities as a woman in today’s society.”

Dishno said the sculptures and standalone illustrations represent desire, longing and apprehension. Dishno said she pulled many of her own experiences and those of women around her to formulate the story lines. To her, it's another step to growing her ceramics toolbox.

Dishno graduated with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from Herron School of Art and Design in 2012. She got her post-baccalaureate from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in 2016 and a master’s in fine arts from the University of Montana in 2020.

After school, she set up shop at Red Lodge Clay Center for two short-term residencies. She was also a co-director at FrontierSpace Art Gallery in Missoula for a year and a half. She’s been at Clay Studio of Missoula since fall 2020.

Shalene Valenzuela, executive director for Clay Studio of Missoula, said Dishno has added value to the studio through teaching adult workshops and her drive to learn new techniques.

“In the last two years her skills have grown significantly,” Valenzuela said. “This exhibit will culminate the new and old of her work.”

Art residency gives new artists time and space to continue building their craft. The Clay Studio of Missoula has hosted over 70 artists since the inception of its residency program in 2004.

Resident artists are provided studio space and resources in exchange for supporting the studio by teaching classes, planning gallery exhibitions and integrating themselves into the creative community, Valenzuela said.

For Dishno, the local connections she built in residency helped her learn different tracks of ceramic knowledge and got her name out to potential collaborators.

Her passion for art drove her to co-founding Wildfire Ceramic Studio, a Westside Missoula space meant to develop young ceramicists. After her residency ends, Dishno said she will take time to teach ceramics as an adjunct professor at the University of Montana-Western.

Then, she will get to spend most of her time at Wildfire studio, where she plans to continue getting young, local artists in the mix.

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