Arcadia Student Ceramicists Craft Plateware for Korean Exhibit at Philadelphia Museum of Art

By John DeRosier | August 8, 2023
From left to right: Michael Dirienzo ’23, Daniel Mack ’18, ’23M, Executive Chef Hoon Rhee, Gregg Moore, Angelina Brewer ’23
From left to right: Michael DiRienzo ’23, Daniel Mack ’18 ’23M, Executive Chef Hoon Rhee, Professor Gregg Moore, and Angelina Brewer ’23

Students from Arcadia University’s ceramics studio created plateware for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Stir Restaurant that will be used as part of an exhibit called “The Shape of Time: Korean Art After 1989.” 

The exhibit highlighted the “hyper-development” of South Korea after the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. 

“For most Koreans, the Olympics were the turning point,” said Hoon Rhee, executive chef at Stir who helped the students design the plateware. “That’s when the country started hyper-developing and when the culture really started taking off. Now, South Korea has a lot of soft power. That means they have influence in music and art and things like that.”

“This exhibit looked at what it means to be Korean in this day and age,” he added.

Thumbnail for YouTube video of students and faculty around a table with ceramic plates

Rhee has created rotating menus at Stir for over a year that are inspired by the museum’s current exhibitions. For the Korean exhibition, he recruited the help of the Arcadia ceramics students to create plateware inspired by authentic Korean designs for all guests to enjoy. Students enrolled in the advanced Ceramics course were given the option of participating in the project as part of their coursework. Angelina Brewer ’23, Michael DiRienzo ’23, and Daniel Mack ’18, ’23M opted in.

In March, they visited the museum for a private viewing of the extensive collection of historical Korean ceramics. Also in attendance was Professor Gregg Moore, director of the Ceramics program, who coordinated the visit with exhibition co-curators Elisabeth Agro, the Nancy M. McNeil Curator of American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts, and Hyunsoo Woo, the Pappas-Sarbanes Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions.

“I was approached by Gregg Moore in February 2023 the possibility of collaborating with the museum, and honestly I couldn’t have been more excited,” said Brewer, who earned a degree in Ceramics in the spring. “It’s been a wonderful process and it’s been very fulfilling. It’s also been a way for me to challenge myself to keep getting better.” 

Creating prototypes and plate selection

Brewer, DiRienzo, and Mack created more than 100 prototypes for Rhee to examine, including plates, bowls, and little cups for sauces. Some of the plateware had feet, some were angled deeper than others, while some were fired hotter to have a brighter glow.

Rhee meticulously compared pieces looking at elevation, diameter, curvature, and most importantly, how they would relate to the other dishes on the table. In his a la carte menu, all the plates will work together in harmony. This is not dissimilar to Korean culture today, he said. The societal pressure to “not stick out too much” is reflected in the upcoming exhibition. 

Rhee selected a combination of prototype plateware that he wanted to see for the designs. Brewer, Dirienzo, and Mack then created 80 of the desired sets that were used for guests at Stir while the exhibit was open.

“The project has been a unique experience,” said DiRienzo. “It’s more particular and specific than anything I’ve ever done in ceramics. It’s forced me to be more intentional and focused than I’ve ever been before while doing ceramics. I’ve had to push myself because we need one specific outcome.”

He said that the feet on the plates, for example, were a lot of work because they must all be the exact shape and size. If they aren’t, the plates will sit at different heights or lean certain ways, which could disrupt the meal and serving the food, he added. 

Majors and non-majors 

Angelina Brewer started her studies at Arcadia as an Art History major. After returning to campus after the COVID disruption, she decided to take a Ceramics class to fulfill an elective. 

It was a decision that changed her educational journey and her future goals. 

“When I started to make the ceramics, I realized that I wasn’t stressed out or overthinking anything like I do when I’m painting or drawing,” said Brewer. “It just felt very natural. I knew I could make anything if I really put my heart into it.”

Brewer changed her major to Studio Art, with a Ceramics concentration. With her degree now in hand, she plans to pursue a master’s degree at the Institute of American Indian Art in New Mexico in the fall and ultimately return home to the Ojibwe Native American reservation in Wisconsin – where she grew up – to teach ceramics to people living there. 

Brewer, however, is the only one of the three students who majored in Art. 

Mack transferred to Arcadia as an undergraduate in 2018 to finish his degree and now works as a therapist. 

He returned to Arcadia to get his master’s degree, and in the fall of 2022, took his first Ceramics class. One thing he tells his clients is to find ways to stay calm and physically do things that make them happy. For Mack, he found his way in ceramics. 

“It’s an amazing outlet,” he said. “Working with your hands and focusing in on this is a great way to be calm and productive. I really enjoy it and want to pursue it more as I go forward.”

DiRienzo took his first Ceramics class as an elective during his junior year because it was always something that piqued his interest. As a Psychology major, ceramics wasn’t something he expected to really enjoy because he didn’t see much of a connection between the two. 

Now, however, he almost finds the routine therapeutic and is ecstatic that he and his former classmates’ work were on display in the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

“It was really challenging at first, but I kept coming to the studio and working at it,” he said. “It’s a peaceful experience for me, so that’s why I kept coming back. Now look where we are.”

During the class, we always had freedom to work on what we wanted, so I mostly worked on mugs. As the chef has come in, it’s gotten more and more specific. It’s been really challenging but really unique and fun.”