Melissa Hilliard Potter C.V.

STATEMENT

Raised among multiple generations of crafters, artists and feminists, my interdisciplinary research and art practice considers women’s culture through their handicraft, social customs, and gender rituals. I believe these practices are a distinct language and history, and I often focus on traditions that are endangered, underpaid and under-recognized due to industrialization, war, gender bias, and globalization. Through interdisciplinary collaborations with ethnographers, teachers, and artists, my multi-media projects range from felt crafts in the Tusheti region of Republic of Georgia, to a film about the dying Montenegrian tradition in which a girl child becomes a man to preserve her family’s legacy.

For decades, hand papermaking has intrigued me as a feminist and socially engaged practice, and I work to position this marginalized form in a broader art context through art making, pedagogy, and studio development. My family history led me to more than two decades in the Former Yugoslavia, where I taught a generation of young artists hand papermaking and built two studios: one in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and one in Belgrade, Serbia. My latest work in hand papermaking is Seeds InService, an ecofeminist project with Maggie Puckett propagating endangered plants for use as papermaking fiber to record the untold history of women in agriculture. This project takes place in The Papermaker’s Garden, which I built with my graduate students at Columbia College Chicago. 

WRITING AND CURATING

In recent years my practice expanded to include writing, curating, and interdisciplinary pedagogy to develop an evolving discourse for these underrepresented subject areas. I do this through blog writing, critical reviews for magazines like BOMBArt Papers, and Metropolis M, and curatorial projects. Social Paper: Hand Papermaking in the Context of Socially Engaged Art, co-curated with Chicago-based curator, Jessica Cochran, was the first of its kind to consider hand papermaking in the socially-engaged art realm. My research for that project revealed the hidden feminist legacy in socially-engaged art, which has inspired new art projects, and another curatorial project called Revolution at Point Zero: Feminist Social Practice.

BIO

My work has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally. Grants for this work include three Fulbright awards to Serbia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, ArtsLink, the Soros Fund for Arts and Culture, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.  My curatorial work has been funded by the Ellen Stone Belic Institute, the Crafts Research Fund, and the Clinton Hill Foundation, among others.

I currently serve as an Associate Professor in the Art & Art History Department of Columbia College Chicago.