Spotlight: Working Collectively

Ceramics Monthly: When you are working together in your studio at Kyle’s house, how do you start the process of planning new pieces, and how do you divide tasks when working on pieces?

Kyle and Kelly Phelps: We are Associate Professors at private Catholic universities in Ohio. Kelly is an Associate Professor and Chair at Xavier University in Cincinnati and oversees the sculpture department and Kyle is an Associate Professor at the University of Dayton and head of the ceramics department.

We are identical twin brothers and grew up in a small factory town in New Castle, Indiana. We developed our work ethic after working in the local factory with family members. We both agree that the experience working collectively on the assembly line helped forge our strong work ethic and productivity in the studio. In the studio, we typically work side by side on many pieces simultaneously. Many hands performing many different tasks in harmony—well almost in harmony. There are the occasional outburst of curse words and arguments that one would expect from (twin) siblings, but “the machine” always manages to move forward.

We can both perform each others’ task interchangeably and often think of ourselves as one person that just happens to be in two separate bodies. Because our work is completed in a collaborative nature, there is no singular authorship. We sign pieces with our shared initials—K.E.P.

Typically, news of a factory closing begins our process. The working-class struggle is central to our work. When we are in the studio, we begin each new piece with intensive research, which includes numerous sketches, photographs, and interviews. Once a site has been identified and researched, we collect artifacts from the site (found objects) to incorporate into each composition. The found objects help achieve a sense of authenticity (time, place, history) to the work. These objects are then juxtaposed with handcrafted ceramic figures central to each narrative.

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