Artist Mae Kellert Explores Her Connections to Sculpture Through Award-Winning Memoir Essay

Megan “Mae” Kellert’s clothes were powdered in plaster dust, her splinters swabbed in Neosporin and covered with bandages when she walked out of the Arts and Sciences Building after long days in the art studio. Swinging at her side was a bucket filled to the brim with loose chunks of clay and sculpting tools.

Her award-winning memoir essay “was inspired by [that] bucket—really,” she said. “It’s one of those gigantic orange buckets from Home Depot that scream ‘let’s do this’ and it’s currently home to my sculpting supplies,” she said.

Her essay “Concreteness” was awarded 1st place in the 5th Annual Jennifer Cakert Writing Awards in the upperclassman creative nonfiction division.

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“I tried to understand why I’m so drawn to sculpture, despite how difficult and physically strenuous and anxiety-inducing it can be as a process,” she explained.

Kellert, who received her BFA in Photography in May, writes to explore. In her memoir she explains that “sometimes we put ourselves through the process of creating art (or writing, or music, or research – whatever draws you in) because we need the process itself and not necessarily the finished project.”

Her memoir “meandered through art history,” a topic she can discuss for hours, and includes “descriptions of the technical process of producing plaster bas-reliefs.”

During an independent study with Jedediah Morfit, associate professor of Art, Kellert learned the art of creating bas-reliefs – sculptures carved into flat surfaces that project outward from the background. She produced a series of interlocking, hexagonal bas-reliefs. “It was a stressful but fulfilling semester, and definitely one of my favorite projects to date,” she said.

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Kellert asks readers a number of questions in her essay: “Why am I so drawn to the grotesque and fumbling figures of Rodin? Why do I spend countless hours in the studio? Why do I carry emergency Neosporin and bandages around with me, for the inevitable accidental flesh wounds?”

Through questioning and written refection, she found that “perhaps we need the process of sculpture and of creation and art-making because it’s our own way of attempting to understand our reality.”

“Meg is amazing and, reading her essay, I empathized completely. Sculpture is difficult. And dangerous. And expensive. It’s heavy, and hard to store. Whenever I get together with other sculptors, we ask each other why we do it, and why we can’t find satisfaction in something easier. But the terrible truth is, once it gets under your skin, you’re hooked. And there’s no telling who will get caught. Little, quiet, Meg might not be the first person you would guess would get addicted to taking a hammer and chiseling apart waste-molds, but people surprise you, and Meg, in particular, is full of surprises,” said Jedediah Morfit.

Her memoir hasn’t ended her quest for understanding. “We can interpret and warp and tear our reality to shreds in our efforts to understand life, but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever truly and wholly understand ourselves.”

The orange bucket became “a symbol of the support system I have in my close friends, who—though they mock me for always being in the studio and being full of band-aids and splinters and for the plaster dust on my clothing—support me and my art.”

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Kellert has been a writer from a young age and will continue writing—it comes naturally to her. “I’m a quiet person and I’m much more comfortable expressing myself through the written word or art than I am verbally,” she explained.

“If I’m struggling with a concept or an issue is bothering me, I’ll invent some characters and try to work out an understanding through writing. For instance, whenever I disappoint myself I turn to writing to understand my flaws and how I can improve and better understand myself. Humans are crazy complex, and sometimes fiction gives us the opportunity to explore these complexities in a more thorough way,” she said.

Beyond writing and sculpture, the multi-genre artist enjoys painting, music and caring for her houseplants. She served as a writing tutor at Stockton and works as a photographer for NJRunners, a website that highlights New Jersey’s high school track and field.

Now that she’s earned a freshly minted Stockton diploma, Kellert has hopes of returning to Paris “as soon as possible.” She studied abroad in France last year “and it’s been calling me back ever since.”

She envisions a future in the city with a cat or two where she will be able to write and create art in an inspiring environment.

Kellert is grateful for the opportunities Stockton afforded her, especially the Jennifer Cakert writing competition. “Writing this memoir helped me work through a few questions I was struggling to understand about my identity as an artist, and I’m so grateful for that,” she said.

Editor’s Note: The Jennifer Cakert Writing Awards are just one of the awards sponsored by the Jan-Ai Foundation, which as of February 2014, has provided over $93,000 in scholarship funds to over 236 individuals.  This year marked the 5th anniversary of the Jennifer Cakert Writing Awards, which offers two prizes in three different categories: 1st-year Creative Nonfiction, Upperclassmen Creative Nonfiction, and Poetry. The Jan-Ai Foundation was established by Cynthia Walker after the untimely death of her daughter Jennifer Cakert (1980-2006), who was an artist and writer.  As the website explains, the foundation “provides financial support through scholarships, mini grants, and simple on-the-spot cash awards as incentive for other young artists especially those constrained by financial or other barriers to pursue their dreams in their creative fields, offering formal recognition of a young individual’s worthwhile goals. In its pursuit of realizing the dreams of others, it will honor the path Jennifer created and will continue her lifelong artistic journey.”