“Alas, for the pelicans! Their golden age is past; but it has much exceeded in duration that of man,” wrote Captain Matthew Flinders in the early 1800s during a voyage to Australia.
For ceramic artist and educator Randi O’Brien, whose work is on display through Sept. 11 at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls, pelicans became a symbol of Montana, “a poignant metaphor for an individual that is paired and banded to not only a partner, but also a region.”
The series was inspired by two sightings of the giant birds: the first was of a dead pelican that she saw the week before she left Montana to begin a new career in New York. The day she returned to Montana, “I came upon an over-wintering pelican. He sat in the morning river steam, motionless.”
Her dramatic life-sized clay sculptures pay homage “to the literal and metaphorical births and deaths. It is an accolade to being banded and paired. It is an apologue of a bird, or an individual, in a state with outstretched borders that provides a ring of security and captivity.”
O’Brien grew up in Colorado and earned both a MFA in ceramics and a MA in art history from The University of Montana. She was the gallery director for the School of Art at Montana State University in Bozeman and for the Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery in Batavia, NY, and an adjunct ceramics professor at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. She’s currently an assistant professor of ceramics at MSU Billings. Her work has appeared in exhibitions across the United States.
The former fly-fishing guide, rafting guide, and ski instructor continues to spend her evenings on the rivers with her husband and young daughter, and her winters in the backcountry.
See her work at www.randiobrien.com.