June 5, 2018

Gabriella Souza at The Walters Art Museum
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Ceramicist Roberto Lugo helps build bridges between the Walters’ historic collections and contemporary audiences

Art from Baltimoreans also featured at 1 West

1 West Mount Vernon Place, the Walters Art Museum’s awe-inspiring 19th-century mansion, opens on Saturday, June 16 after a multi-year transformation. Located in the heart of Mount Vernon, 1 West offers visitors exciting new ways to experience the Walters’ renowned collection in one of Baltimore’s most distinctive and spectacular buildings.

The Walters has commissioned ceramicist Roberto Lugo to create works of art and participate in programming for the reopening of the historic building. “Roberto Lugo was on our radar from the very beginning of our work on this project because of his engagement with themes of identity and race through traditional forms of ceramics,” says Eleanor Hughes, Deputy Director for Art & Program, who co-curated the Lugo installation with Alexander Jarman, Manager of Adult and Community Programs. “We’re thrilled and delighted that he was willing to explore the Walters’ collection and the history of 1 West, and to create stunning works of art that connect with both.”

Lugo first visited the Walters during the summer of 2016, when he was a resident artist at Baltimore Clayworks and participated in workshops throughout the city. Now, Lugo’s inspirations come to life at 1 West Mount Vernon Place.

Lugo finds inspiration in the ceramics collections of the Walters Art Museum. “When I visited the Walters, I realized that I could explore many different cultures and the ways they communicated their identities.” For Lugo, this was a significant revelation, especially as an artist of color who hasn’t always been able to identify with objects in museums. “When I go to museums, there’s this distinct separation in that I feel like the objects are made for someone else,” he says. “Being able to work with the Walters feels like I have the opportunity to make a bridge between museums and people who haven’t always been represented there.”

At 1 West, Lugo’s works combine the forms and traditions he observed in the Walters’ collection with contemporary color and imagery. The elegant shapes of Sèvres porcelain are echoed in vases that also feature figures like Frederick Douglass and Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died in police custody in 2015.

Lugo was particularly inspired by learning about Sybby Grant, who was an enslaved cook at 1 West during the 19th century. In homage to Grant, Lugo created a set of plates with a monogram of her initials and visual references to the dishes in which she took pride. They are displayed on a table in the dining room, where guests feasted on her culinary creations—but where she herself would never have been allowed to dine. The potential to have stories like Grant’s told is exciting for Lugo. “That’s the gift that I and many other artists have been given—to take places like the Walters and really give someone like me a voice,” Lugo says.

1 West also showcases a community art project, led by Baltimore ceramicist and educator Herb Massie, that incorporates over 200 plates made by members of the Baltimore community, and a video installation created in collaboration with faculty and students from the Maryland Institute College of Art. The second floor features Studio 1 West, a “maker space” where visitors of all ages can create and display their own works of art as a way of connecting their own experiences to the art on display. And to enhance visitors’ experience of the home, the Walters created a free, interactive app (available June 15) that can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

Lugo will be attending the free community opening celebration of 1 West on June 16. He is also planning to return to Baltimore throughout the summer to attend events that invite the community to participate and experience art in a whole new way.

About The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5,000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient Roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.