Artist Spotlight: Aaron Caldwell, Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award Recipient

Aaron Caldwell is a recipient of a 2019 Warren Mackenzie Advancement Award. More information on the award and how to apply is on our website. Read on to learn more about Aaron’s research. 

Aaron completed his BA in studio art with a minor in art history at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He researches ways of telling Black American narratives with ceramics through imagery, texture, and finishing techniques by learning about central and west coastal African tribes, African American history, and European conquest/invasion history. He studied traditional pottery-making of Nigeria and Ghana with Winnie Owens-Hart at Penland School of Crafts before embarking on travels to all-Black populations in search of valuable, primary source information about the lives of unsung Black American leaders, innovators, and pioneers.

NCC: Why has your grant opportunity been important to you? 
AC: This grant opportunity has given me the chance to travel to places I could only dream of prior to the award. I am a very in-person, hands-on, on-the-ground kind of learner. I grow through experiences that I get in person, so I knew being able to travel to various museums and visiting historic all-Black towns and Black sites would feed its way into my artistic practice.

NCC: What prompted you to apply for the WMAA? 
AC: I took a Blacks In the West history course my last semester of undergrad in spring of 2019, and an African American art history course in fall of 2018. Both of these experiences fueled my passion for travel to museums and historic Black towns and sites. I came across WMAA while researching grants, and seeing the various projects/experiences funded by NCC through the WMAA made me realize that it was an opportunity worth trying for, and I had already told myself if I did not get it this time I would try again next year.

NCC: What did you find difficult about the process, what did you find was helpful?
AC: I think the application itself was straightforward. I think what I found most difficult was overcoming my own fear of not writing about my vision clear enough that my passion doesn’t resonate in my writing. At the time of applying, I was in the midst of my thesis undergraduate semester, and arguably still extremely new to art and how to write about myself in relation to art. Thankfully, I had a friend that I could talk to over and over about my project, so when it came to applying I kept thinking back to how I spoke about my project to her. It helped ease my anxiety about being an amateur with two years of ceramic experience, and to just write as passionately as I could about what I wanted to do.

So far, this grant has allowed me to travel to Richmond, DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Allensworth in California. Each stop has been extremely eye opening, and has impacted the work I want to make in ways I did not expect to be impacted. The work I am currently creating and experimenting with could not have been realized without this experience with WMAA. 

The images are of my first finished work. Inspired by many things, but the first inspiration stems from the lack of black queer history and culture in all the black history and culture museums I visited.