Moore Merges Farm and Table with Art and Design

By Purnell Cropper | December 13, 2014


As a self-proclaimed “interdisciplinarian” with a background in geological sciences, Gregg Moore, associate professor of art and design at Arcadia University, understands how art intersects other fields of study. When Moore prepared to discuss his latest exhibition and a recent design/market collaboration, though, he seemed a bit bemused.

“What I do? It’s not so interesting,” said Moore. “I live it. It’s work, a lot of work.”

For Moore, life and work are based in Glenside. In addition to teaching and directing the ceramics program at Arcadia for the past 11 years, he runs Heirloom Home and Studio with his wife Jackie, not far from the house they share—and the garden they tend—with their two young children.

However, with this summer’s Heirloom/Table d’Hote exhibit shown at the Philadelphia Art Alliance (PAA) in Rittenhouse Square, and with his pottery designs selling through retailers Anthropologie and Williams Sonoma, Moore’s work has stretched far beyond Arcadia and Glenside.

So how does an artist able to meld ecology and cuisine into art find himself also designing functional pieces for use between kitchen and garden?

“It all connects,” said Moore, who directs Arcadia’s University Seminar program known for courses that cross disciplines, including the Envisioning Sustainability: Contemporary Art and Environmental Science course he developed and co-taught with Dr. Lauren Howard, associate professor of biology.

“We spend a lot of time in the department of Art and Design thinking about the implications of the shift in context from art studio to design studio, from gallery to product. The common connection is creative expression. The end result depends upon where I want the object to go, whether it’s a work of design, a work of art, or something in between. I do both.”

As a designer, he debuted his Field Harvest serveware collection at Anthropologie stores this fall. The Philadelphia-based company is promoting Moore’s line, along with the statement his pieces make about foods grown and eaten in this country, and how they are served. In addition, Moore’s ceramic berry baskets continue to sell at Williams Sonoma and at Heirloom Home and Studio.

If you grow your own food, and take it from your garden to your kitchen and prepare it, you have a deeper understanding of what you’re eating, how it’s grown, and what it takes to create a meal.

– Gregg Moore

As an artist, Moore’s PAA show was well-received this past summer, with the exhibition possibly traveling out of state in the coming months. Employing the idea of social practice art—also known as participatory art—Heirloom/Table d’Hote featured Moore’s pottery and a collaboration with South Philadelphia chef Pierre Calmels and his wife, Charlotte.

The concept for Heirloom/Table d’Hote took root nearly five years ago, when Moore met Sarah Archer, the chief curator at the PAA while Moore was planning his exhibition. Moore had invited Archer to the Arcadia opening of the groundbreaking show, Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn, which he had co-curated with Richard Torchia, director of Arcadia University Art Gallery. Archer was working on a New York show called form follows food and after meeting him invited Moore, a trained potter, to create a piece for it. At the time, Moore had been working primarily in sculpture and had been away from making pottery professionally for years, but form follows food rekindled his interest in ceramics. His submission to form follows food—a piece simply called Kale—inspired Moore to offer Kale Seeds (Reclaiming the Stolen Harvest) for Arcadia’s 2011 Art and Design Faculty Exhibition. The piece, influenced by author/activist Vandana Shiva’s seed freedom movement, allowed Arcadia Art Gallery visitors to take seeds from Moore’s piece and grow kale in their own gardens.

Something else grew from Moore’s involvement with Archer’s show: the desire to do a full-scale exhibition around food, agriculture, and social practice art.

“The choices we make at the table affect the choices farmers make at the farm,” explained Moore. “It’s easy to be blinded to that. If you grow your own food, and take it from your garden to your kitchen and prepare it, you have a deeper understanding of what you’re eating, how it’s grown, and what it takes to create a meal.”

Four years went by before Moore could bring his show to the PAA, but he took advantage of delays to find the right collaborators in the Calmels. The couple, already known for the celebrated South Philadelphia eatery Bibou, fit with Moore’s vision.

“Pierre and I hit it off,” said Moore, “and we started exchanging ideas on how we could do a performance piece with food, design the meals and implements for the performance, and hold it in the gallery.”

The resulting exhibition, which Arcadia art and design students helped Moore install, showed from May 22 to Aug. 17 at the PAA. Twelve works comprised Moore’s multi-layered installation: his Heirloom pottery, which included Kale and Kale Seeds (Reclaiming the Stolen Harvest); Calmels’ seven-course prix fixe dinner, served to gallery goers on select nights to create the interactive experience Moore calls the performance, Table d’Hote; the reclaimed pine table upon which the feast was placed, designed by Moore to function as an anti-type of pedestal (pedestals make Moore uncomfortable—he prefers to engage his audience; he wants them to touch); and an audio/visual installation called Crafting the Meal, a soundtrack of animal sounds and activities from a friend’s farm that Moore dubbed over footage from the initial dinner performance.

Moore said Heirloom/Table d’Hote challenged him to express the process of farming in contrast to the pleasure of eating, while also creating functional designs for Calmels’ dishes.

“One of the goals I had for this exhibition was to try to blur that line between art and design,” said Moore, who hopes to begin work with another chef on a new installation carrying social implications that reach even further than those explored with Heirloom/Table d’Hote.

With a new show on his mind, an additional showing likely for his most recent exhibition, designs doing well at retail, and his classes, Moore’s plate seems full. But perhaps crossing one special item off the professor-artist-designer’s wish list would make life even more complete.

“If I could have a kitchen-garden-studio all together, that would be great,” Moore said.

Slideshow photography courtesy Greenhouse Media