“Reliquary of the North Shore”

A new ceramic art installation at the University of Minnesota Duluth aims to celebrate the biodiversity of Minnesota’s North Shore region.

Anna Metcalfe smiles at the camera while installing her ceramic artwork titled “Reliquary of the North Shore” at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Anna Metcalfe, a Minneapolis-based ceramic artist and University of Minnesota Twin Cities alumna, unveiled her new permanent art installation titled “Reliquary of the North Shore” in A.B. Anderson Hall on the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) campus in March.

The artwork is a wall-mounted relief tile installation of 40 geometric ceramic tiles, and eight ceramic sculptures, all featuring animal and plant species from Minnesota’s North Shore region. Some species are carved in relief, while others take three-dimensional form and protrude from the tiles on pegs. All of the pieces come together like a puzzle to form a singular wilderness landscape.

The clay used in the piece was sourced from the grounds at Glensheen Mansion, shores of Brighton Beach, and a core sediment sample from the bottom of Lake Superior near Isle Royale taken by UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory (LLO). When fired in a kiln, each clay rendered a different color and augments the composition in a unique way: The beach clay is a rich orange and makes the sky; the Glensheen clay is a chocolate brown and forms the base of the landscape; and the clay from the bottom of Lake Superior is a warm white, used to highlight the details of the wilderness setting.

A detailed image of a ceramic artwork shows a lake trout chasing smelt.

In deciding which species to include, Metcalfe turned to scientists from UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), who put together a list of iconic North Shore plant, insect and animal species. The left side of the landscape features a forest of pine varieties occupied by animals like wolves and moose, while the right side showcases aquatic species like lake sturgeon and deepwater sculpin. The upper half of the landscape is where you’ll find birds, bats, and insects. Central to the composition is an eight-pointed star formed by 16 ceramic tiles.

“The overall goal of this piece is to highlight the hope for the resilience of the ecosystem here,” Metcalfe said.

A hand places a ceramic bird onto an art installation at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Metcalfe earned a Masters of Fine Art degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2009. During those studies, she became interested in “social practice art,” where she could engage the community through the art-making process, often around a particular cause. Metcalfe hopes her art installation will remind people of the importance of preserving the diverse ecosystems along the North Shore.

“It’s a task that is seen as worthy and people are working really hard on,” she said, “which is really hopeful to me.”

Metcalfe will give a brief presentation about the art installation, followed by a ribbon cutting program, on April 16, 2024 at 5 p.m. on the second floor of A.B. Anderson Hall in the main entry commons.