Art, Art History and Design, School of


First Advisor

Pete Pinnell

Date of this Version



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Fine Arts, Major: Art, Under the Supervision of Professor Peter Pinnell. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2021

Copyright 2021 Amythest Warrington


The impetus for this exhibition is to visualize the weight of loss and to focus attention on the need to recognize the inherent dichotomy between life’s beauty and loss. My mobile upbringing taught me that details may differ from group to group, but the core experiences of loss, empathy and belonging are a universal language that connects us. I utilize clay’s unique physical properties of malleability, recyclability and permanence once fired, to explore the dichotomy between strength and frailty associated with these universal connectors. The meticulously crafted beautiful objects draw one into serious and often taboo subjects. The work comforts those who need it, while challenging those who are comfortable.

Each piece in the exhibition was inspired by pivotal moments in my journey of healing after my husband committed suicide. They are not about the loss itself but rather the emotions that followed. Loss, depression, and isolation are universal experiences that the Covid19 pandemic and social distancing have magnified on a global scale. My intention, by visualizing the emotional weight of loss to help people and society develop greater understanding of empathy for those experiencing loss and isolation. I want people to recognize the beauty inherent in all human experiences.

What happens when we physically represent the emotional weight all humans carry around, when we make the invisible visible by physically weighing down into the clay, leaving the imprint of the pressure visible, while removing the object? The focus becomes the impact of an experience, the emotional weight an experience leaves on a person, and it is all the more powerful when the only evidence of the lost object is the mark its absence left.

Porcelain hands, one 3-dimensional, and the other the imprint left by the other person, are displayed on opposite sides of the same wall as if they were touching through the wall. They are unable to connect through the physical and emotional distance. This space between people can speak louder than anything said or not said. I noticed similar feelings of disconnection and isolation while social distancing during quarantine as I did following the death of someone I loved. These experiences provide an opportunity for self-examination, to explore my connections to others and develop empathy.

My work explores the tragedy of loss but also the beauty in it. Love is required between people in order to feel the pain of losing them, as you would not feel the grief of a loss without first experiencing the love, and without the love you would not experience the grief. The pillow of roses, which is the embodiment of a labor of love, is comprised of row after row of roses, forming a pillow with an imprint of head of one who once laid on the pillow. The labor required to form this pillow mirrors the labor required to build and maintain a relationship while each flower physically represents the memories in that relationship.

Every flower, hand formed from clay, represents a memory memorialized, preserved forever, or slowly dissolving, put on display for all to see. Each petal begins as a small ball which repeatedly gets pressed into the palm of my hand to create a tapered shape, hiding a thicker middle that creates structure and strength in what seems to be very thin clay, due to the rim quality. My palm print is stamped on each petal with a final slap between both hands. The petals are then joined one by one, growing from the central shape and formed pinch by pinch. Roses are my go-to flower because they are ubiquitous, used to celebrate birth, death, romance, healing, and everything in between. It allows the viewer to assign their own meaning to the flower.

I find comfort in the making of repetitive objects that can be combined to create something larger and different from the components. Like a rose made from individual petals that is then combined in a large quantity to make an object such as the pillow of roses or the bed of roses, creating a field of memories made visible for all. I find it incredibly fascinating that some cultures believe in hiding one’s true self while others believe in putting one’s true self on display. What happens when we expose our experiences or the mess of our life to all who interact with us? Would it impact how we treat one another?

Clay can be an incredibly strong and durable material, but I push it to its limits, creating visibly fragile flowers that defy gravity in a way that clay shouldn’t. This frailty of a strong material mirrors the human experience. Like a person, my flowers have hidden strength. They are stronger than they appear, yet still fragile. Clay can be recycled in multiple ways, allowing one to edit and create again from the same material. This unique property is utilized in my work to allude to how we, like clay, can be reshaped and begin again anew, formed from the same material, yet different from our past.

The wall of bricks is comprised of hollow unglazed porcelain bricks made from a press mold of a special decaying brick from the turn of the previous century, saved by my grandmother. It was something used, worn, and discarded that someone found value in and used again. This cycle, discarded, saved and made anew, mirrors how someone who finds themselves broken down, running into a brick wall can start anew. The typical function of a brick cannot be performed by these bricks as they are hollow, unable to bear weight, frozen in a state of decay yet still stable and beautiful. Their metaphorical function is enough, just like the person in front of the wall is enough.

I find inspiration in religious practices because they create a sense of community and belonging, while also creating spaces for healing and self-examination. I am inspired by religious symbols, like the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but I am not attempting to replicate nor replace these rituals and practices. Rather I look to them for inspiration and understanding because I strive for these same characteristics within my own work.

I intentionally use beauty to make my work approachable, even disarm the viewer before they realize the emotional weight of the work. We already have enough ugliness in the world, I do not need to create more, in order to ask the viewer to engage with serious subjects. It is hard to get someone to willingly approach topics such as suicide, but art provides a safe access point for tough subjects and can serve to examine and challenge our established beliefs. These objects are enough as beautiful objects, but if the viewer chooses to think about the implications of their content, the object points to a different conversation beyond physical beauty.

We are defined by empathy, love, loss. We choose what baggage to keep as we move forward. Our experiences make us into who we are, but we do not have to be defined by our past and the marks it has left on us. Like the bed of roses, where the memories represented by the unfired roses dissolve as water drips on them, breaking down the clay so it can be formed into something new, so too we can take things, recycle them, and create a new beginning from the used, broken and beautiful bits. It is an opportunity to examine ourselves and practice empathy as we move forward, embracing both life’s beauty and pain through art, despite the weight of it all.

Advisor: Pete Pinnell

Copyright 2021, Amythest Warrington

This project was made possible, in part, with support from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts' Endowment Fund and the School of Art, Art History and Design.

Warrington-Vase with Orchids and Roses front view.jpg (5639 kB)
Vase with Orchids and Roses, front view

Warrington- Vase wiht Orchids and Roses back view.jpg (4052 kB)
Vase with Orchids and Roses, back view

Warrington- Vase with Orchids and Roses side view.jpg (5146 kB)
Vase with Orchids and Roses, side view

Warrington-Vase with Tulips and Peonies front view.jpg (4079 kB)
Vase with Tulips and Peonies, front view

Warrington-Vase with Tulips and Peonies back view.jpg (3969 kB)
Vase with Tulips and Peonies, back view

Warrington-Vase with Lilies and Roses back view.jpg (5909 kB)
Vase with Lilies and Roses, back view

Warrington- Vase with Lilies and Roses front view.jpg (5711 kB)
Vase with Lilies and Roses, front view

Warrington-Vase with Lilies and Roses flower detail.jpg (5360 kB)
Vase with Lilies and Roses, side view flower detail

Warrington- Vase with Tulips front view.jpg (4557 kB)
Vase with Tulips, front view

Warrington- Vase with Tulips back view.jpg (5740 kB)
Vase with Tulips, back view

Warrington- Vase with Tulips flower detail.jpg (6038 kB)
Vase with Tulips, flower detail

Warrington-Vase with Gladiolus front view.jpg (5379 kB)
Vase with Gladiolus, front view

Warrington-Vase with Gladiolus back view.jpg (5804 kB)
Vase with Gladiolus, back view

Warrington-Vase with Gladiolus flower detail.jpg (5694 kB)
Vase with Gladiolus, flower detail

Warrington-Bed of Roses water drip detail.MP4 (22366 kB)
Bed of Roses, water drip detail

Warrington-Raining Petals movement.mp4 (11719 kB)
Raining Petals movement and sound

Warrington-Crying and Laughing Eyes.mp4 (3636851 kB)
Crying and Laughing Eyes video