Shay Church: The Unfinished Temple

Standard Ceramic’s NCECA Exhibitions


When the 52nd Annual Conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts convenes in Pittsburgh this coming March 14 – 17, Standard Ceramic will transform its facilities into several galleries that will feature exhibitions by noted ceramic artists.  In addition, eight universities will be featured in “pop-up” shipping container galleries on the property.  Standard Ceramic is located

in Carnegie, a nearby community just fifteen minutes from the downtown conference location.  Conference attendees will be able to travel to the site via charter buses and make their way through the galleries, viewing the art and touring Standard’s clay-making and glaze operations, its ClayPlace@Standard gallery space, the Standard Ceramic Supply store, and the company’s offices.  Local musicians will perform throughout the opening, with food and drink provided.


The 2018 conference theme – Crosscurrents: Clay and Culture – will explore sources of inspiration that influence and impact work in ceramics today.  The Standard exhibitions will address this theme.  Over the next several months, we will feature stories about these artists and their shows here on our website.  Visit us often to read about this exciting event.



Shay Church: The Unfinished Temple

As NCECA visitors make their way through the many exhibits on the Standard Ceramic property this March, they will encounter an installation by studio artist Shay Church under construction in the outdoor space beside Standard’s retail store building.  Church plans to give form to an idea inspired by a sermon given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and fortified by a visit to two temples in Central Java, Indonesia.


Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Church is known for his temporary clay installations, which have included life-size whales and elephants left to fall apart in abandoned buildings, parking lots, outdoor spaces and galleries.  He earned an MFA in Spatial Arts from San Jose State University, was an artist in residence at the Archie Bray Foundation, and currently teaches part-time at the Gwen Frostic School of Art at Western Michigan University.   In 2014 Shay and his wife Maura began a functional pottery in Kalamazoo called Grayling Ceramics which specializes in handmade functional ware for the home and restaurants.

Church explains the impact of reading King’s sermon, entitled, “Unfulfilled Dreams,” given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1968: “In today’s social and psychological climate, King’s words resonate deeply with me.  King speaks about the temples we build and the worthy nature they encompass, even though more times than not, the temples go unfinished.”  During his travel to Indonesia, Church was reminded of the sermon during a tour of two ancient temples – the Buddhist Borobudur and the Hindu Prambanan.  Church says, “It took generations of lives to build those temples.  They were built in different time periods and now exist in a predominately Muslim country.  I want my installation to reflect my experience, as a Christian, of visiting these temples.”



As an artist who literally “builds” his pieces, Church explores the connection between human making and human striving for meaning.  Though his installations are large construction projects, even his small sculptural works and functional pieces are each, in a way, a temple to the artist’s desire to speak, connect, and understand.  For his installations, Church builds a skeletal structure, usually with scrap lumber, and then covers it with wet clay.  The piece is left to disintegrate in the elements, a metaphor for the transitory nature of the physical and the enduring nature of the idea. 



Many of his previous works have been animals or things from the natural world – an elephant, a tree, whales.  The enduring quality of a temple, something created to last through the ages, will be a different direction, focusing on the impulse to create something lasting, yet never being able to complete it.  King touches on this inherent tension in the “Unfulfilled Dreams” speech:


And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple.  The struggle is always there.  It gets discouraging sometimes. … Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. … And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.  Well, that is the story of life.”


It will be interesting to see how the NCECA work evolves.  King says that “one of the greatest agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable.”  Shay Church hopes to put form to this enigma, to present a finished unfinishable in its agony and artistic glory.


To learn more about Shay Church, visit