By Jona Grinkewitz
Amber Pierce is not in for the awards or accolades.
“I would make art whether that happened or not,” she said. “So any recognition or honor is just an extra.”
Pierce, a dual major in Art Education and 3D Media and Materials at Old Dominion University, was recently awarded a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Visual Arts Fellowship.
She won in the Arts and Crafts category for a series she created at ODU that combines ceramics with fibers – materials that can be embroidered, sewn or crocheted.
Pierce used a technique called coil-building to create the ceramic vessels, then poked holes to decorate the pieces with various fabrics, embroidery floss, yarn, felt, and found material.
Her fiber professor Ginger Brinn, an associate professor at ODU’s art department, inspired her by saying that fiber could be anything.
“The discovery of all of these new materials, with ODU’s knowledgeable faculty guiding me, has really expanded my artistic practice,” Pierce said.
An art education major, Pierce said she was exposed to many different art forms that influenced her style. As a mentor, she names Natalia Pilato, her professor of art education and mural painting.
Rick Nickel, associate professor of art at ODU and professor of ceramics at Pierce, said the training culminated in her successful submission.
“Amber has an uncanny ability to synthesize her well-developed drawing, painting, design, fiber and ceramic skills,” he said. “She has found a way to weave all of her interests into a unique and original blend of craft and art.”
Pierce said she wants to uplift others through her work, which includes her personal story and the stories of others.
“Soft Spot to Rest Your Head” features two young black girls holding hands surrounded by flowers.
“During the events of 2020, as a respite, I wanted to create a safe space of peace and joy for black girls,” she said. “I wanted to reconstruct the idea of recovery as an act of resilience. Making a pillow allowed me to create a physical space dedicated to the idea of forgetting your problems for a moment and prioritizing rest and maintaining health.”
Another track, “Monumental,” is more personal.
“This piece glorifies a mundane yet intimate activity shared between my partner and I,” Pierce said. “I embellished the outside of my jar with this image and wrote a personal statement on the back. It symbolizes a declaration of honoring and celebrating small moments by solidifying and placing snapshots in a space.”
Alison Byrne, associate director of exhibitions and education at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and a VMFA grant judge, said Pierce’s contribution immediately caught her eye.
“I found Amber’s work to be visually compelling, innovative and very personal,” she said. “I appreciated her nod to the history of the medium combined with her original drawings, prints and transfers, and incorporation of fibers.”
The grant comes with $4,000 in prize money that artists can use as they wish, including for educational and studio investments.
“If Amber were to receive this award, she would be judged among a very large number of students from art schools across the Commonwealth,” said Peter Eudenbach, professor and chair of the arts department at ODU, who also received a VMFA grant in 2007 for that reason while the prize money is helpful, it is ultimately the VMFA’s support that draws attention to young artists receiving this grant.
“The strength and reputation of any arts program is always tied to the strength of the students and what they achieve.”
Pierce said she’s interested in doing more community-based art projects – a passion her professors have picked up on.
“I think you can really see her love for others in her work,” Nickel said.