Randi O'Brien

assistant professor, ceramics
Billings, MT


December 3, 2015

By Cassie Winter, University Relations and Communications


Randi O'Brien in the classroomRandi O’Brien, in her first semester teaching at MSUB, is a ceramic artist, historian, writer, presenter and educator with a Master’s of Fine Arts in ceramics and Master’s of Arts in art history from the University of Montana. But most importantly, Randi is a valuable addition to MSUB’s Art Department because of her ability to create an energetic and positive atmosphere for her students.

How did you choose ceramics as your form of art?

“In truth, I see story telling as my primary form of art. Clay and ceramics are one of the many traditional forms of recording frozen moment narratives. I use video, photography and writing to further explore and communicate my ideas. Nevertheless, clay has a certain Je ne sais quoi, or romance, to it. Clay is an intuitive material for me to manipulate. Historically, technically and formally, ceramics has the ability to resonate a natural inspiration and conceptual purpose for me.”

Where are you from and how did that inspire your artwork?

“I am originally from a small working town in Colorado and I have been in Montana for the past 13 years. In terms of my upbringing and location inspiring me, I would say it’s less inspiration and more work ethic. I love storytelling after a long day of honest work. I think the communities I have grown up in and now choose to live in are all similar in the fact that we have shared experiences and are willing to work hard.”

What are your hobbies outside of the studio?

“I am an avid telemark skier. Over the Christmas break my husband, daughter, and I are doing 15 Montana ski resorts in 15 days. There have only been two other guys to document this. We intend to write an article about our experience and document the journey. It should be about 3,500 miles, give or take. We have also skied all of New England two winters ago, and regularly travel to Chile, Canada and the French Alps for skiing. I have been a fly-fishing and whitewater rafting guide for a collective of 10 years. My daughter was born in Billings and though we travel frequently, Montana is the ideal state for our lifestyles.”

Tell us about your first semester at MSUB and about the projects you are doing with your students?

“My first semester has been such a breath of fresh air. My students have given me so much motivation and pride. I am really blown away with the variety of characters and diversity of ideas that my students bring to the table. My favorite courses have been my ceramics for non-art majors. They are just so much fun and always keep me on my toes with new problems and solutions I would have never come up with. But this new “Social Glue” project that my Ceramics II students have designed and are implementing this Friday has been the single most gratifying moment of my teaching career. To put it simply, I am proud. I am proud to know these young adults will enter our community as socially responsible artists. I cannot wait to see them flourish in Billings after they graduate.”

What is the importance to you for creating art for a cause like in the Social Glue Project?

“There is an art movement called social practice art. It is a movement that uses art objects to advocate, to generate dialogue and to be a resource for the community. It’s not about art for arts sake, it’s not about beauty, it’s not about financial gain, and it’s not political art. It is art that builds communal bridges. The Social Glue Foundation designs art objects that are civically- and socially-minded. The foundation started as a service-learning project, but as the students designed and conceptualized the the project, I realized they were on to something extraordinary. Yes, this is service learning at its finest, but the students have received QPR training, built a website­ and they seem inspired on a whole new level. The first project to come out of the Social Glue Foundation are the “Key’s to Suicide Awareness”. The keys are metaphors or symbols. When worn as a pin or necklace they signify that the individual is willing to be a key to suicide prevention. By wearing the key, the individual is willing to say that Montana will no longer have the highest suicide rate in the nation, that we as a community will be the key to support and referring those in need to the appropriate resources. The keys are free, and come with a small business card that have national and local crisis hotline numbers. Each key is unique, handmade and will be handed out during the first Friday Art Walk on December 4th from 5 to 8 p.m. Students are already brainstorming how this project will continue to expand beyond the classroom and semester like developing curriculum for high school art teachers, lecturing at regional conferences and national call to action. Did I mention how proud I am? These students­—Bonny Beth Luhman, Amy Mason, Levi Weeks and Flora Hammond—are simply amazing.”


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