Ruth Chambers at the Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff

I am a great admirer of the Willock and Sax Gallery in Banff, Alberta for many reasons, including their consistent support of ceramics.  Each of us knows that exhibitions are planned well in advance but the current April Flower shows seems more than appropriate after the area got hit with snow yesterday.  Each of us needs our mood brightened at the end of April when friends all over the world have been celebrating the arrival of spring for some months now.

One of the ceramic artists whose work is being shown at the Willock and Sax is Ruth Chambers.  Ruth spent a month last year working at the Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark while she was on leave from her position at the University of Regina.  Ruth hand-builds porcelain, often multi-coloured, firing to cone 6.  The gallery’s online catalogue states:

“Ruth Chambers creates bulbs and flowers out of delicately coloured porcelain at various stages of their growth. She carefully considers and skillfully constructs sculptures of extreme detail. Continuing research into the tradition of still life and its requisite considerations of space, form and time permeate her micro-compositions of fragile, improbable porcelain configurations. In this way, the artist addresses ideas of beauty and temporality.” 

I am personally enthralled at the patience, the observation, and dexterity it takes to manipulate a clay that often doesn’t want to be controlled.  There is a softness, a gentleness in the way that Ruth handles the colours but the underlying core has to be related to Vanitas, the transience of life genre of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.  In this way, Ruth pays homage to the women like Rachel Ruysch who popularized that genre in her depiction of grand bouquets full of blooming and dying flowers.

Unlike many ceramic sculptors who have been pushing the size of their objects beyond the colossal, Ruth has kept some of the pieces life size.  One bulb looks like it is just beginning to sprout is 2 x 2 x 1.l75 inches.  Ruth has captured the moments after dormancy when the tunic (skin-like covering that protects the fleshy scales) and the shoots come alive.  The tunic is translucent; you can almost feel it crumble between your fingers if touched.

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There are twelve porcelain sculptures in all ranging from single bulbs to fanciful lidded cups with tulip knobs, footed bowls, and an amazing piece titled, Still Life with Snow Peas, Avocado, and Strawberries (feature image of this blog).  

Ruth studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, receiving her MFA from the University of Regina in 1994.  She is currently the Associate Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of Regina.

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It is so great to see support for Canadian women working in clay.

Photo credit:  Willock and Sax Gallery

 

Profound Sadness at the passing of Dr Sandra Alfoldy

It is with a very heavy heart that I acknowledge the untimely passing of Dr Sandra Alfoldy on February 24, 2019.  Sandra championed Canadian crafts and their history in every class she taught at NSCAD, in every public paper she delivered, and in her books.  She was immensely helpful to me in my research on Vietnam resisters that had moved into the Kootenays.  Sandra grew up there, and her Master’s thesis, Theory and Craft: A Case Study of the Kootenay Christmas Faire for Concordia University in 1997 came from her intimate knowledge of the event.  Her parents, fine crafters, were inspirational to her.  In that document, she states:  “Through years of active involvement in British Columbia’s Kootenay Christmas Faire, held annually since 1974 in Nelson, I became aware of a concern in the craft world that the introduction of theory into studies of craft would disregard practice. This fear was combined with resentment as artisans perceived
a hierarchically-based disdain toward the crafts and their producers. For years this
has led to a self-referential “art-versus-craft” debate which is not only counterproductive, but also leaves the area of craft under-explored in the institutional and academic art world.”  This was early Alfoldy and her research and her belief that craft could be part of a contemporary art world with all of its theories guided her creative research.  She was, at the time of her passing, looking to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and a response from the colonies (Canada).  Her thoughts on this will be missed, and the craft community in Canada will struggle to find such a remarkable advocate as Alfoldy.