Michelle Manta

Simplici Medicina

Senior Project April 2015


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Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd, South
Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565
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Nature has been a powerful form of healing throughout human history. In particular the garden has been a place where many healing therapies are found, such as eco-therapy (surrounding one’s self with nature), and food or plant based medicines.  Women have a significant history in the garden and healing gardens have been kept by women since the Middle Ages.  These healing gardens were tended by women who were viewed as healers - wise women, midwives and nuns of the convents.  In the Medieval home it was the mother and wife who cared for the sick child or warrior husband.  Outside of the household, wise women of the Middle Ages treated both women and men with their “simples”, a term meaning healing plants and herbs.  Nuns in the convents were some of the first nurses and medicine keepers in early Medieval hospitals.  My project is a celebration of these Medieval healing women.

Nature, healing, ceramics and history all hold important places in my life. My own garden has been a critical inspiration for my work as it is both beautiful and therapeutic.  The outdoors is where I go for healing; nature keeps me grounded while reminding me of the natural cycle of life.  The plants portrayed in this exhibit have been referenced in history to help with sadness and depression.  The fact that clay is a material that can be mined raw from the Earth and used to make both functional and decorative pieces of art is what draws me to it.  In many traditional cultures, women have been the workers of clay.  Clay has a profound historical significance and humans kept their first written records on clay tablets.  I have always had a particularly strong fascination with women in history and the roles they have played in society. My project stems from a connection that I feel to historical women of the Middle Ages and their roles as healers. The title of this exhibition, “Simplici Medicina”, is the Latin translation of simple medicine.  Medicinal books and herbal manuscripts of the Middle Ages were written by prominent educated women such as Abbess Hildegard of Bingen and the first noted female gynecologist, Trotula of Salerno.

I chose to use clay in order to make wall tablets, as clay is a very historical material.  The garden tablets are made out of earthenware slabs draped over foam supports, at bone dry stage they are painted with terra sigillata, a refined slip. The tablets which display the individual plant and its name in Latin are made out of porcelain.  The imagery, such as the plants and handwritten words, were engraved on the bone dry pieces with a needle tool.  The pieces are then bisque fired to about 1900 degrees fahrenheit and after bisque firing, black glaze is inlayed into the grooves. The flora were painted with Mayco low temperature oxidation glazes and after glazing, the slabs were fired again in the electric kiln to about 1888 degrees fahrenheit so that the glaze could adhere to the clay.  The pieces go through additional firings such as pit and alternative firing methods.