A Fresh Take on “Modern Craft” with Artist Madeline Mullinnix

Photos Courtesy of The Artist

In any other context, a wrist surgery would hinder an artist in their processes, but for Madeline Mullinnix, it was the wake-up call that she needed to pursue her craft.

Thankfully, Mullinnix’s surgeons were on board with their patient trying ceramics as a form of physical therapy, and she took to it quickly. Now, seven years later, her work has been featured in exhibitions in Kansas City and Indianapolis and has garnered numerous awards. Mullinnix’s striking portfolio demonstrates her aptitude for reinvention, and the way in which she blends different mediums into each stunning final product is as enchanting as it is fascinating. From intricate ceramic corsets to ornate quilts made of hundreds of woven tiles—like the one currently on display at The Indianapolis Art Center—it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the sheer detail of her work.

When Mullinnix was young, her grandmother taught her crocheting and Swedish weaving, and she carried those skills over to sewing and, eventually, ceramics. After recovering from her surgery, she continued to create ceramic pieces in high school, and she received her first award for her work, a Scholastic Art Awards silver key, in 2016. She would follow this up with a High School Senior Three-Dimensional Art Award and another Scholastic Art Awards silver key and honorable mention the next year, along with a feature in her high school’s literary and arts magazine, Headrush. After graduation, she enrolled in community college and looked for opportunities to showcase her work in her native Kansas. “I started applying for actual art exhibits in my own free time,” she recalled. “I just started applying to different ones that seemed interesting.”

Since then, she’s been accepted to exhibitions with Kansas City’s First Fridays program in October 2018, Kansas City’s Artist Coalition Emerging Artists program in March 2020 and April 2021, and The Arts Asylum during the spring of 2021. Most recently, her work has been featured in the Kansas State Student Union, where Mullinnix is currently a student, and at the aforementioned Indianapolis Art Center as a part of their “Modern Craft” exhibition.

After viewing work from a local artist in her community that combined ceramics and sewing, Mullinnix was inspired to bring the different elements of her artistic background together to create pieces made from woven tiles. Her work featured in the “Modern Craft” exhibition, titled In Loving Memory, is a dazzling ceramic quilt made of 360 triangular tiles, each individually woven in by hand. “I actually built up a callus along the edge of my finger from pulling the thread tight!” she remarked while discussing the intricate process. “It’s interesting to see how my hand has been altered to adapt to that repetitive task.” Mullinnix was also inspired to take on ceramic corsets made of hand-woven tiles by a school assignment to create wearable art, and wants to clear up any confusion over the functionality of the support garment in response to modern media’s interpretations. “There’s a lot of negative connotations in ad campaigns and Hollywood that they’re really constrictive and make you faint, but in reality, they can be very comfortable,” she pointed out.

Just as Mullinnix’s work is a blend of mediums, she sees it as a fusion of different emotional responses to be explored. “Even though my art is based in ceramics, which are solid and sturdy, my artwork comes off as soft and gentle,” she explained. “I try to convey that gentleness and sense of security in my artwork.”

As for what’s next for the artist, she hopes to continue exploring the relationship between ceramics and functional forms in her work. As a part of her current work for her project Monuments for the Dead, Mullinnix aims to examine grief and healing through ceramic fragments and cites the Japanese art form kintsugi as a major influence. “It represents functional items that have been rendered nonfunctional in the sense of how we lose a loved one,” she says of the project. “When they pass, there’s a feeling of brokenness, and there’s the whole process of putting the pieces back together.”

To learn more about Mullinnix’s work, check out her Instagram, and view her piece, In Loving Memory, as a part of the Indianapolis Art Center’s “Modern Craft” exhibition, which runs through June 3rd.

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