Blue Collar | Kyle & Kelly Phelps

December 3, 2015 - March 6, 2016



Growing up in a small town, identical twins and African-American artists, Kyle and Kelly Phelps were part of a family and community defined by factory and farm work. Their new exhibition, Blue Collar, discusses this rust-belt aesthetic at the Canton Museum of Art.


Much of the twins' work is about the blue collar working-class, race relations and the everyday struggles of the common man and woman. The twins grew up in a blue collar environment in Indiana where they were inspired by family members and friends who worked in various manufacturing plants, steel mills, and foundries. As in most U.S. factory towns in recent years, closures came and jobs disappeared
. These everyday people became working class heroes that has inspired over a decade of working class art.

For a number of years the twins have produced work that incorporates both the hand-crafted (clay/resin casts) juxtaposed with found objects/site specific objects. Kyle and Kelly have combined gears, corrugated metal and scrap-machined parts along with modeled ceramic/resin cast figures to create a visual narrative composition about the blue-collar experience. It is important for the twins to continue to combine hand-crafted art form together with found objects to give their work an authentic sense of place and time.  The brothers rummage closed factory sites for coarse wood, corrugated steel and the other objects that weigh heavily into their compositions.

“Found objects have a sense of place and time,” Kyle Phelps said. “These pieces are part of the machinery that came from a place that meant something. New materials don’t have that kind of life.”

Kelly and Kyle Phelps are Associate Professors at private Catholic universities in Ohio. Kelly Phelps is an Associate Professor at Xavier University (Cincinnati) where he oversees the sculpture department. Kyle is an Associate Professor at University Dayton (Dayton) where he is the head of the ceramic department. Both Kelly and Kyle work collaboratively to create their artwork and share a studio in Centerville (OH). The twins share numerous grants, regional and national exhibitions, and commissions. More notable private collectors of the twins work are in the hands of film director Michael Moore, and actor Morgan Freeman as well as a major reviews in the world acclaimed Sculpture Magazine and American Craft Magazine.

This exhibition is presented in part through funding from Ohio Arts Council; Ohio Humanities, for an oral history video project; and from The Hoover Foundation, Stark Community Foundation, J.M. Smucker Company, and Canton Fine Arts Associates.