Donna Ray. Photo credit: Northern Clay Center.

Artist Donna Ray painted a letter in the Black Lives Matter mural on Plymouth Avenue last summer in Minneapolis. It featured a hawk, known as a protector in the spirit world, and the words of George Floyd’s daughter, “Daddy changed the world.” Though Ray painted the mural’s “I,” her art has always been about “we.”

“Ceramics is a chemical and visual field, where I have to know about color, but I only see black, white, and gray, so I have to be very social in my community,” said Ray. As a child, she soaked in compliments from family and friends about a red velvet Christmas dress or a pink Easter bonnet, relating their descriptions and the feel of the finery to her imagination of color. Years later, talking with people about what animals look like helped her choose colors as she formed artwork from a ball of clay. 

“Gold eyes make Rocco the baby raccoon look greedy as he eats the red pepper from Chook, the garden rooster. His eyes are like gold coins,” she said. “I get my colors from the people I talk to…and then I make it my own.”

Recently, Ray shared her artistic vision with community members and high school artists as part of Art for All, the Stephanie Evelo Program for Art Inclusion at the Institute. 

The program features Ray in a solo exhibition, “Black and White with a Touch of Color,” beginning April 15 and running through May 31. In preparation for the virtual event, Art for All hosted a livestreamed conversation between Ray and Nik Fernholz, program manager for Art for All. The pair also spoke virtually with art students at Buffalo High School.

Each year, students at the school partner with elementary students, creating ceramic bowls from drawings made by the younger students. Next month, the bowls will be for sale to parents and community members in a silent auction, with proceeds donated to Art for All. 

“My mom and my sister were both special education teachers. It had a huge impact on me,” said Jon Holtz, the art teacher who created the silent auction and who has taken a strong interest in promoting student artists with disabilities over the years. “When I came to this school nearly 30 years ago, special education students didn’t move around the building a whole lot. Hopefully, we’ve opened the door to some of those students.” For purchasing questions and other information about the silent auction, contact Holtz at jholtz@bhmschools.org.

Carrie Schmitt, a special education teacher at the school, works with Holtz both on the bowl project and on the school’s broader inclusion efforts in art and other classrooms. “We’ve dug into what it means to be inclusive and we’ve used the general education students as mentors in classrooms,” she said.  Their efforts go beyond the subject matter of individual courses, stressing fun and social opportunities involving students with and without disabilities.

“We feel very fortunate that the school has selected Art for All to receive the proceeds from this event, and to share in the event featuring Donna Ray,” said Fernholz. “I was speaking to one of the students after Donna’s talk and the student shared how she closed her eyes and started using her hands to understand the piece of pottery in a different way.”

Or as Donna might say, she learned the touch of color.

Photo credit: Northern Clay Center.