One look at a Dina Wilde-Ramsing piece conveys a lifetime of experience and evolution. She has created myriad sculptures, from complex boxes to humanoid figures and mighty horses. Though every piece varies in clay type and color choice, each exhibits a style recognizably hers. Her work—across four decades—will be on display at Acme Art Studios as part of “Gathering the Flock,” which opens Saturday.
“This is a show of all her life, from the very beginning until now,” Dick Roberts, co-owner of Acme Art Studios, explains. Though he will host Wilde-Ramsing’s tribute show, he also is a longtime friend.
“Her husband, Mark, called me up last year and asked if I would sponsor a show for her,” Roberts mentions. “We both agreed she needed a retrospective of all her work, so I said ‘yes.’ It’s a colleague getting her due, so I’m happy to do it.”
Now Acme Art Studios presents 240 ceramic pieces Wilde-Ramsing created over the last 40 years. Each is on loan from 40 various households, five collectors, one government agency, and a museum. “I’m blown away,” Wilde-Ramsing notes, as she walks through Acme. “I didn’t even know I made this many.”
Though she dedicated much of her life to ceramics, it was not her focus always. In youth, she enjoyed drawing and painting. She graduated from the UNC Chapel Hill in the ‘70s, with a degree in anthropology and art history. She did not work with ceramics until she decided to go back to school for a teaching degree at East Carolina University and began taking courses in clay-making. From there she found a new outlet for expressing herself.
After obtaining a teaching degree, her work varied. In 1977 Wilde-Ramsing was an archaeologist who documented Native American sites in New Hanover County. She fired up her early work in a backyard gas kiln. Four years later, she established her own studio and began teaching adult education pottery at Cape Fear Community College, alongside fellow potter Hiroshi Sueyoshi. She taught for 16 years before retiring.
Wilde-Ramsing’s work in anthropology has inspired much of her art. After enrolling in an archeology course during her sophomore year of college, she became involved in the excavation of a pueblo ruin in New Mexico. The introduction into Native Southwest culture, inspired by earthy tones and animal imagery, led her to explore similar color palettes and themes. She has a fondness for all the horses she sculpted. “It’s really fun making them,” she mentions. “I get to break out the clay, color it, put it in the kiln and bring life to it.”
Her granddaughter, Sylvia, who joins us at Acme during the interview, points to a sculpture of a humanoid figure, draped across a bed of intricate patterns. “I like this one because it reminds me of myself,” the 8-year-old says.
At Acme Wilde-Ramsing’s work is situated separately by decade. Similar pieces stand grouped together, to illustrate the natural progression of her style. In the beginning are test tiles with elaborate paintings of people and horses, and a clay representation of the family’s pet iguana. Deeper in the room are collections of unique figures (with no two same expressions) and a broader group of animals, like goats nuzzled by their humanoid friends and crows sitting atop blocks of claw marks.
“There used to be a flock of crows that would fly through town when she lived in Morehead City,” Wilde-Ramsing’s daughter, Kee, explains. “She’s always loved animals, so seeing them fly through the town really inspired her.”
The details are a testament to Wilde-Ramsing’s growth and great precision. Each crow stands atop a block with a different posture and position. The claw marks are even embedded into the clay on which it stands.
“She’s always been confident,” says her husband, Mark, who she met on the same archaeology trip of southwest discovery. “Early on her pieces were a bit stiff, but they became more sophisticated over time. The thing that’s always been consistent, though, is the craftsmanship. Any time you find one of Dina’s pieces, it’ll have clean edges and markings.”
Wilde-Ramsing’s career has come with numerous awards and recognitions. She became a member of the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild in 1999 when the group presented her with the Craftsmen Choice Award. In 2008 the guild also gave her the Dino Read Foundation Award. In 1998 the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources commissioned her to create ceramic awards for former Governor James Hunt to present to business leaders who supported the arts.
Wilde-Ramsing has since retired from sculpture in 2016. However, she continues to draw and host gatherings of her “Clay Buddies” group, where her friends and family can create art together. “I miss it,” she emphasizes of her work, “but I’m glad I’m still able to make things.”
Visitors can view Wilde-Ramsing’s tribute show on March 3 and 11. The show is free, and Wilde-Ramsing and her family will be in attendance to discuss the work on display.
“I hope visitors can appreciate the path she’s been on,” Roberts notes. “It’s one of those things where you don’t choose art—art chooses you. I think that’s relevant to Dina.”