Clay, creativity, and courageous women fill OSU’s The Little Gallery

Office Administrator for Kidder Hall, Helen Wilhelm, hangs up Vicki Idema’s ‘Miriam Makeba’ clay mask on Feb. 07, 2024
Office Administrator for Kidder Hall, Helen Wilhelm, hangs up Vicki Idema’s ‘Miriam Makeba’ clay mask on Feb. 07, 2024
PJ Royland

The faces of various influential women emerge on Oregon State University’s The Little Gallery wall, composed of clay and constructed by regional artist Vicki Idema.

From March 5 to April 18, OSU is hosting Idema’s collection, “Perseverance: A Tribute to Grace and Resilience,” constructed in celebration of International Women’s Day in Kidder Hall, room 210.

The exhibit will be free to students and the public. The Little Gallery will be open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for viewing.

Idema’s collection will feature six masks, each of a specific woman around the world, along with other various art pieces. One of the constructed masks will display the face of Malala Yousafza, a young Pakistani woman, working to expand education for women as an activist.

“The six clay masks represent women who have fought hard, or are still fighting, to achieve their goals in the arts, sports or human rights,” Idema said.

OSU’s The Little Gallery looks to host a variety of artists whose art critically and creatively approach intercultural questions, invoke discussions and bring cultures together on campus, according to OSU’s website.

Regional artist Vicki Idema’s “Under the Umbrella of Strength”’ sculpture is among those featured in the Kidder Gallery Exhibit. (PJ Royland)

“Initially I would like people to pause to enjoy what they are seeing,” Idema said. “If my art can spark a conversation I would be happy.”

It is Office Administrator Helen Wilhelm’s hope as gallery director that the audience views Idema’s art with an open mind to the power that art can have to convey narratives in new ways.

One OSU student, Isabelle Bare, said, “art is such an incredible way to get to know women and their struggles, as it is anybody, because you get to peer into someone’s soul as to what they think the struggle is.”

Bare expresses her belief that International Women’s Day should be a day dedicated to understanding the struggles that women face on campus and around the world, emphasizing the importance of initiating communication around the topic.

She also voiced her belief that art can create understanding, “I think that all of us have that experience of working hard on something and wanting people to understand what comes out of that, so we are able to relate to that,” Bare said.

Wilhelm structured The Little Gallery in a thematic way, grouping similar subjects together. Individual masks were set together to bring awareness to the individuals themselves “who despite adversity and struggle achieved a lasting legacy, universal recognition and fame.”

Idema’s work as an artist started at a young age when as a child she was “uninhabited and full of imagination”, exploring the earth and utilizing mud to fuel her creativity. Idema holds a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Colorado State University with a specialty in fibers.

During the time when her two daughters were home, Idema took graphic design classes at Linn-Benton Community College.

For the next 12 years graphic design served as a consistent income for Idema. She worked with, among other things, t-shirt designs, helping OSU fraternities and sororities bring ideas to life.

Classes with Analee Fuentes served as an introduction to figure drawing for Idema and it was here that she continued to express her creativity within class while also practicing the artform of paper cutting.

“For many years paper cutting was my art form and the female form was my muse. Then it was a trip to Paris in 2019 and I saw the sculptures and reliefs at the Musée d’Orsay, I decided I wanted to learn to sculpt the human form,” Idema said.

The use of sunlight, paper and clay have been incorporated into the installation, with the intent of focusing on women around the world. A couple of the pieces have been placed so that sunlight directly hits the thin paper of the artwork, displaying the names of women within the cast shadows.

“Cutting paper is a very meditative process. I use an X-Acto knife to carefully create my designs. Influenced by Katazome, the Japanese stencil dyeing technique, my work reflects many images seen in Japanese textiles. A contrast to the delicate paperwork, I enjoy the plasticity of clay,” Idema said.

In January 2023 Idema reached out to Wilhelm with the intention of displaying her artwork at OSU. Wilhelm and Idema worked together to create an installation for International Women’s Day and for the next year Idema worked on her masks, dedicating each month to a mask or piece of art.

“International Women’s Month is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. I think that one can easily see the correlation between the narrative of the exhibition and the inspiration behind a month-long celebration of women,” Wilhelm said.

Idema continues to create artwork in Corvallis, her work often brings attention to themes of gender, homelessness, human trafficking and struggles encountered by individuals around the world, according to the Maude Kerns Art Center. 

“Ironically as an older woman I am still playing with mud and my hope is I can continue playing until the end of my life,” Idema said.

Artwork displayed in Kidder Hall for the Perseverance: A Tribute to Grace and Resilience exhibition in recognition of International Women’s Day. (PJ Royland)
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