Picking Up the Pieces: UAA ceramic artist Viola Armistead reflects on artwork lost in recent earthquake

When Southcentral Alaska was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, Viola Armitstead had two concerns in mind; the immediate safety of her family… and the safety of her ceramic artwork.

Armitstead, a sophomore pursuing a BFA in ceramics at UAA, was asleep at her family’s home in Eagle River when the earthquake hit.

Several of Armitstead’s broken sculptures after the quake. Credit: Viola Armistead

“It was so scary, I remember seeing everything on my shelves rumble and start falling, I ran downstairs to find my mom,” said Armitstead. “The second thing on my mind was oh my god… all of my sculptures, all of my art… it’s all going to be broken.”

In the immediate aftermath following the earthquake, things looked grim for Armitstead’s ceramics.

“The earthquake hit our house really hard so everything flew off our shelves and a lot of stuff got destroyed,” Armitstead said.

After surveying the damage the earthquake dealt to her ceramic collection, Armitstead discovered that multiple pieces she planned on featuring in her upcoming debut First Friday show had been damaged.

“I was relying on having most of my ceramic artwork on display, so having the earthquake a week before the show was really stressful,” Armitstead said.

In addition to the pieces she was planning on showcasing, Armitstead lost a large quantity of her work, ranging from cup and bowls to sculptures and other artwork — many of which she had created in classes at UAA.

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Most personal to Armitstead was the destruction of a ceramic hand-painted TV she had made in 2016 in Intermediate Handbuilding taught by Alanna DeRoccchi.

“The TV was the first thing I made at UAA that I really felt proud of… so it was really upsetting,” said Armistead. “It wasn’t my best piece, but it was the first one I really liked and it made me want to switch my major to become an art student… so it had sentimental value.”

Despite the personal sense of loss Armitstead felt, she quickly picked up the pieces and salvaged all she could for her first Friday show at Catalyst Cannabis Co.

“It ended up being OK… I was able to pull everything together and it seemed like I had enough,” said Armitstead, who managed to repair a few ceramic sculptures for the show.

“Viola’s work is awesomely fantastical and surreal,” said Jessi Saiki, who attended Armitstead’s first Friday show.

Saiki, who is pursuing BFA in ceramic sculpture appreciates the uniqueness of Armitstead’s artwork.

“Her color palette is incredibly vibrant.. and the characters she creates emanate a warmth and friendless that remind you of the wonderful kind of person Viola is.”

Armitstead, who uses lots of bright neon and psychedelic colors in her work draws inspiration from cartoons such as “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters,” which aired on Nickelodeon from 1994-1997. Additionally Armitstead credit’s Andy Warhol and Keith Haring as artistic inspirations.

“TV Nightmare” on display. Credit: Viola Armistead
Armitstead’s Ramen sculpture on display in the UAA Student Union art gallery, pictured prior to being damaged in the November earthquake. Credit: Viola Armistead
A 2018 self-portriat of Armitstead that was completely destroyed in the earthquake. Armitstead was planning on featuring the piece in her first Friday show at Catalyst Cannabis Co. Credit: Viola Armistead
A 2018 self-portriat of Armitstead that was completely destroyed in the earthquake. Armitstead was planning on featuring the piece in her first Friday show at Catalyst Cannabis Co. Credit: Viola Armistead

“I love to see ordinary things and objects glorified… it’s fun that way because everyone has a reference to it” Armitstead said.

“Viola’s artwork reflects her sense of humor and her appreciation for individuality” said Honor Bowman Hall, a former Art professor at UAA who now teaches at The Savannah College of Art and Design in Savanna, Georgia.

“I love how she pulls her unique aesthetic into her work because it’s not derivative. It’s 100% Viola,” Bowman Hall said.

From Armistead’s perspective, there is a silver lining to the loss sustained from the earthquake.

“I’m trying to use it to motivate me to make new stuff,” said Armistead, “It was really sad to see everything go, I can’t replicate what I had exactly… but I’ll now be able to make something better than the original.”

Armistead’s artwork will remain on display at Catalyst Cannabis Company throughout the month of December.

Armitstead posing next to “TV Nightmare” in a previous show in the UAA Student Union art gallery. Credit: Viola Armistead

To see more of Armistead’s artwork you can follow her on Instagram: @goo_forms