Westmont Magazine Treasure in Earthen Vessels
In the quiet cool of the morning, Tricia Clodius McGuigan ’77 goes rowing. She plants her feet firmly in the slender boat and pulls the oars through the ocean swells. The dim light of the dawn grows brighter as her breathing gets heavier.
“Praying is like rowing,” she says. “I anchor my prayers in God just as I set my feet in the boat. I rely on his strength to do the hard work.”
Seeing the spiritual in everyday life is important to Tricia, especially in her art. She consciously creates ceramics that speak about transformation and truth.
“There is so much faith reflected in art, especially in ceramics,” she says. “It’s about transformation, about taking something ordinary and turning it into something precious and useful. The process is difficult, but it has spectacular results.”
By making molds of found objects such as toilet plungers and citrus squeezes, Tricia transforms them into surprisingly stylish teapots. The highly polished surfaces result from firing the clay in the high range. This process gives her less control; she has to act on faith that she’ll get the look she wants.
Ceramics also teaches Tricia patience: It takes 12 hours to fire the kiln in her backyard studio. “I have to resist the pressure to get things done, to use the kiln before it’s ready,” she says. “I’ve learned to relax and to wait for God to open the door to creativity, to see what he is doing. God is generous with his communication. There’s no need to be anxious.”
Tricia had to wait to develop as an artist. Westmont didn’t offer an art major, so she studied physical education. She transferred to CSU Los Angeles, got married and raised two children. Art remained in the background.
“It took me a long time to sense my calling to be an artist,” she says. “I felt guilty. I thought I should be doing something more practical.”
In 1997, Tricia earned a master’s of fine art degree from Otis Institute of Art. “Attending a secular school was difficult, but it strengthened me,” she says. “I learned to make art that stands on its own, that resonates down to the core. I want the work itself to speak about truth in a way the viewer can’t deny. Jesus spoke of the rocks crying out — I want to make art with that degree of truth. I don’t have to put words on it to identify it as Christian or spiritual.”
Her teapots and sculptures have appeared in juried shows throughout the country and in publications such as Ceramics Monthly. She has won several awards, including first place in a public art competition at CSU Long Beach.
While Tricia is gaining a reputation as a ceramicist, Tricia may be more famous for owning the craftsman-style home featured in the television show “Joan of Arcadia.” The producers knocked on her door one day and asked if they could film the exterior of the house. “God did an extraordinary thing,” she says. “It was exciting to have so many creative people coming to my home.” She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Terry, a chief marine inspector for Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors. She met him rowing.
Tricia has reconnected with Westmont as a parent. Her son, Ben LaBarbera ’04 majored in computer science and works at Raytheon. Her daughter, Rachel LaBarbera, will graduate in 2006 with a degree in biology. “It was the best place for both of them for completely different reasons,” she says.
She’s pleased that Westmont has a strong art program now. “It’s incredibly important to have artists of faith who are doing deeper things,” she says.