Tyler student Dennis Ritter had a vision that fused his passion for ceramic art with a local park. On Friday, Sept. 4, his vision became a reality.
As a 33-year-old freshman ceramics major, Dennis Ritter certainly isn’t the typical Tyler student. In addition to being older than most of his classmates, Ritter has artwork on display in Bird Park in Old City.
At Third and Arch streets, you will find his summer 2009 project, which consists of 200 white porcelain birds hanging from a piece of netting suspended above Bird Park.
“I saw the space as I walked past it everyday on the way to work, and I saw that it was being neglected,” Ritter said. “I just decided that I wanted to put something there.”
Ritter calls the art project “Emergence,” which portrays the past year of his life, including achievements like getting an enjoyable job and being accepted to art school.
“If you look up ‘emergence’ in the dictionary, it’s the coming together of many things to form a pattern or a structure, and that’s kind of what’s happening with me,” Ritter said. “All these different little aspects have come together and brought me into school, and [I’ve worked toward] achieving some of my goals.”
The art project will only be on display through the end of September but will be reinstalled in March 2010.
It has been at least seven years since Ritter has regularly attended school, he said. He previously attended Montgomery County Community College but never finished with a degree.
It wasn’t until Ritter was hospitalized with Crohn’s Disease, he said, that he realized he truly wanted to go back to school.
Diagnosed with the disease at 16, Ritter became very sick three years ago and was forced to spend an extended amount of time in the hospital. During this time, he was fired from his job as an environmental tester, but Ritter said he is certainly not bitter about the layoff.
“It was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said.
Ritter has been interested in art ever since he was a little kid, but it was during his time in the hospital that he decided to make it his career.
“It was like a wake-up call,” Ritter said. “I realized I needed to make some changes and get onto a different path.”
Although he had already been dabbling in ceramics since he first graduated high school, Ritter said he wanted to return to school to build a broader base and obtain his teaching certificate. So, Ritter found himself at Tyler’s front steps August 31, his first day back to college since young adulthood.
“I feel like I already know a lot [of what I’m learning], so I struggle with it a little, but it’s good to go back and keep working on my foundation,” Ritter said, adding that his current time at college will be a lot different from his previous years at Montgomery County.
“I’m treating it more like a job and trying to get everything done. I’m not really worrying about the social aspects of school like before.”
Ritter said he also thinks having an older peer group outside of school and being around other artists his age will make his experience at college much different than before.
After he graduates from Tyler, Ritter said he’d like to start looking for a teaching job while continuing to work on his art. He also plans to apply for a residency program and possibly go back to school for his degree in art therapy or a Master of Fine Arts.
Ritter said he’d enjoy working with troubled teens or special needs students.
“It’s more challenging and more rewarding when you see success with kids with disadvantages,” Ritter said. “Art opens up a lot of doors for these kids.”
Ritter currently works as a studio technician at the Clay Studio, a nonprofit in Old City that offers art classes and has a residency program for established artists. The Clay Studio also participates in forms of community outreach, Ritter said. Every Saturday, he goes to a youth study center in East Falls, where he gets to do what he said he loves – teach children ceramics.
When he’s not teaching or creating, however, Ritter said he loves playing guitar and the Dobro and cooking.
As for whether he’s cooking up any upcoming installations, Ritter said there are a few ideas floating around in his head, but he wouldn’t be putting them into action any time soon. His priority right now is to remain a focused on his schoolwork.
“I’m putting my ideas off until summer,” Ritter said. “I really need to concentrate on school right now.”
Grace Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com.