A Porcelain Picture of Time

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 6, 2022
Joan Rosenberg-Dent’s Finding Beauty in Unprecedented Times

Montecito artist Joan Rosenberg-Dent was an early participant on the Santa Barbara Studio Artist Tour, but quit after a couple of years due to being the solitary sculpturist on the self-guided driving tour of local studios. 

It wasn’t that standing out from her peers was a problem, as the porcelain artist has blazed a few trails as she has fashioned a career over decades in her studio, including eschewing colorful glazes in favor of form and story, and turning many of her porcelain elements into wall hangings. 

“But I felt like a duck out of water,” she said. “It didn’t seem like people wanted to see anything but paintings.”

But now, more than a decade later, after having conducted private tours for visiting cruise ships, and done only virtual tours on YouTube during the pandemic, Rosenberg-Dent is excited to be returning to the tour for its 21st anniversary. That’s partly because, unlike some abstract artists, the porcelain artist loves sharing the stories and process behind her creations. 

“You’re free to just roam around, but if you would like me to walk you through and explain the pieces, I love to do that,” she said. “I want them to interact with me, and ask questions about the pieces. I want people to see what the clay is like, and I want them to feel it. So I’ll have everything available for that to happen.”

It’s that tactile part that first drew Rosenberg-Dent to working with clay long before she became a professional artist. 

“I have loved clay since childhood much more than Crayons or a paintbrush. I like the physicalness, the texture, the molding, the dimensionality because I can really feel what I’m doing, move it around, and manipulate it.”

Porcelain provided an even more refined appeal, Rosenberg-Dent said, because of its purity and clean white beauty. “The most magical part is that when it’s fired in very thin layers, you can see the light come through. It’s very magical.”

That translucent quality works well for a new series on time, the latest obsession for the conceptual artist who makes her work out of visualizing the abstract, and Rosenberg-Dent has been posing a lot of questions for herself in contemplating creating the pieces. 

“What is the shape of time? Is it circular? Is it linear? Time is always in essence on my mind. I’m driven by it and trying to manipulate time. Time shapes my life, but I shape the time in my life.”

Even as the focus changes, the process remains pretty much the same, Rosenberg-Dent said, explaining that she fashions a “vocabulary” composed of a variety of parts, and covers an eight-foot table with hundreds of them. 

“Then I start playing to see what will form,” said the artist who studied ballet for years in her youth and still sees dance as a backbone of movement in her work. “It’s like I become the choreographer and my pieces become the dancers,” she said. “I’m very aware about the space around them, the relationship of one form to another, just like dancers are with each other. What drives me is the discovery. When finally the pieces come together, it’s this feeling of ‘Oh my gosh, this is it.’” 

Rosenberg-Dent said visitors to the studio often show up to see the dancer sculptures, which have become one of her calling cards for years. 

“I have my shelves lined with them, either black, white, or gray,” she said. “People love to choreograph their own pieces, pick out the dancers, put them on the table and arrange them in different ways. They interact with the dancers and it becomes their piece. I love that interaction. I strive for that in my work.” 

But Rosenberg-Dent also works in much larger formats, particularly in panel wall hangings, which she happened upon accidentally. 

“I was in the studio one day feeling really blocked about where I was going to go next,” she explained. “I started tossing some clay around and it went splat on the wall and stuck. That got me thinking, why don’t I make something on the wall?”

Wanting the works to exist out of her studio, Rosenberg-Dent transitioned to firing the pieces and adhering them to wood panels, and the format has proved to be a very popular one. Most recently, Regent cruise lines commissioned two 6 ft x 3 ft porcelain panels for its new ship Splendor, which Rosenberg-Dent titled “Land” and “Sea.” Rosenberg-Dent’s “Ceramic Garden” was a 2021 commission from Casa del Herrero in Montecito. Meanwhile, much of the prolific artist’s works hangs in several permanent museum collections including the Detroit Institute of Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Canton Art Institute, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, as well in many private collections. 

Porcelain art lovers won’t have to travel far to see a good slice of the breadth of Rosenberg-Dent’s work this weekend, as she joins 27 other local visual artists in throwing open the doors to their studios, with the sculptor ready to offer a warm welcome for all comers. 

“When it’s not too busy, I will extend myself to everyone. I’m an educator. I love to talk about my process, how things happen, the stories behind them. What could be more fun?”

(Santa Barbara Studio Artists’ Open Studios Tour takes place over Labor Day weekend, September 3–5, with an opening reception on Friday, September 2 at the Community Arts Workshop, 631 Garden Street, which is also where visitors can purchase passes and pick up maps and brochures all weekend. Tickets are $25, free for children under 12. Visit www.santabarbarastudioartists.com.)

First Thursday

Santa Barbara’s monthly 1st Thursday art, wine, and culture walking tour could have an additional attraction on September 1 of serving as something of an appetizer for the weekend’s Open Studio Tour. Or visitors can just simply set aside the one evening to indulge in viewing visual art, sipping libations, snacking on hors d’oeuvres and checking out the entertainment all around lower State Street and environs. New exhibitions include Dos Arbolitos, featuring Oak Group co-founding member Arturo Tello and fellow painter John Wullbrandt, at Santa Barbara Fine Art, and the opening of Sullivan Goss’ annual Fall Salon, spotlighting important works from D.J. Hall, Channing Peake, Bjorn Rye, Gordon Onslow Ford, and others. Shows about to close include 10 West Gallery’s Viewpoints, featuring work from 11 contemporary artists. Also, pick from performing arts choices including Pop-Up Opera from Opera Santa Barbara at the Museum of Art, and Hula Anyone performing Hawaiian hula and Tahitian dance alternating with Hawaiian Lounge act The Coconuts on the 900 block of State. 


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