For the Love of Craft

The word Craft is both a noun and a verb, and the difference between the two has often been as problematic as the terms ‘craft’ and ‘art’.  In her new edited volume, Craft.  Documents of Contemporary Art, Tanya Harrod, states, “Craft is a contested concept, a word with almost too many associations” (12).   Harrod points out that historically, the ‘Arts and Crafts synthesis’ did not have a wide following in the various schools of art in the twentieth century as the norm for both teaching, learning, and making abandoned the idea of inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary practice or making.

Compartmentalisation became the standard or, as it is often termed today, silos were built where the crafts were cut off from ‘fine art’.  Even though individuals can be heard to say, ‘I thought that debate was over’, the divide was “rigorously policed” (Harrod, 14).  In the 1980s, many who worked with ceramics began to abandon the vessel form in favour of hand building while at the same time jewellers chose not to use precious materials in the hope of being accepted by the fine art world.   Recently, craft writer and theorist, Glenn Adamson, has sought to find ways in which individuals could cross over any barrier in their thinking.  His new book, The Hidden Wisdom of Objects.  Fewer, Better, Things examines craft as both a noun and a verb and includes a close consideration of objects held in the Tucumcari Historical Museum such as cattle brands and barbed wire.  He says, “I don’t think it’s idealistic to suggest that an encounter such as this [visiting a very local historical museum] can …at least establish the possibility of shared respect and understanding” (184).  As the former head of research at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England and the director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, now the Senior Scholar at the Yale Centre for British Art, Adamson is no stranger to the cultural divide that still exists between the craft and art worlds.  In his latest offering, Adamson argues that we need to evoke some kind of collective memory, to find the things that each has in common and to come to a space of shared respect and understanding (184).

In the past couple of weeks, I have been engaged in the act of tidying my cupboards.  Most of you will be aware of Marie Kondo and her methods of organisation that help spark joy in individuals lives.  One of the categories of her sorting is ‘sentimental items’.  In my large Chinese cupboard, I have two stacks of objects.  The intricate crochet work with the detailed pineapple pattern on several dozen doilies was the handiwork of my paternal grandmother, Beulah Sipes Duncan.  The embroidery work was done by my maternal grandmother, Maud Bruesch Daniel.  Maud also embroidered the many quilts that cover the beds in my house and fill at least one cupboard.  As a child growing into a teenager, I became acutely aware of how much the arthritis in her fingers impacted her ability to embroider.  Still, every day she would sit in her rocker embroidering everything from quilt squares to tea towels.  The detail in the stitches changed as she aged.  Over time she abandoned the tiny French knots for longer cross stitches.  Neither of my grandmothers had any training in textiles.  They would have, at one time or another, earned the adjective ‘amateur’.  I would argue, as Adamson does, that is no reason to dismiss the labour of these women.  Using the verb ‘craft’, however, their making was as precise and beautiful as someone categorised as a professional.  To this day, it is alarming to me to hear the work of women dismissed simply because they are not pursuing their craft as a vocation.  It is time, perhaps, that the verb ‘craft’ came into play.  As makers we need to educate the consummer on the difference between something well made by hand or by hand using some tools (my potters wheel is, afterall, nothing but a tool) and that work put together from industrially made parts and sold as being an original, creative idea!  It is comforting to know that craft – the noun – is being re-examined.  Within the broader spectrum of art, materials generally associated with work are becoming part of a larger sphere of socially engaged projects and materials such as clay or glass are finding new possibilities in the world of art.

And this brings me to the purpose of today’s blog, and that is to suggest to you that if you are in Winnipeg that you stop by the Manitoba Craft Council on Cumberland Street to see the exhibition For the Love of Craft.  The gallery showcases the work of the organisations’ members.  The offerings are diverse, many of them quite humorous and range from those just beginning their journey of making to more established members such as Keith Oliver, Grace Nickel, and Kathryne Koop (and myself).  The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12-4, and the show is up until February 23.

Included is Family Picnic by Gayle Buzzi, an MFA student in her final year at the School of Art, University of Manitoba.  Buzzi works in various media and set about creating a space at the School where she could cast glass.  She also took advantages of the decades of knowledge of Ione Thorkelsson, one of the founding members of the Manitoba Craft Council, who set up her glass making studio in southern Manitoba in the early 1970s.  Buzzi’s piece consists of two cast glass and frit geese.

img_1603

Ursula Neufeld submitted Checkered Past, a multimedia work that had lots of visitors curious and giggling.

ursula neufelde checkered past

img_1569

The variety represented the range of creative endeavours in our city from the intricate and decorative ceramics of Koop to the book making and binding of Debra Frances Plett’s, Stories of the Forest.

kathryne-koop.brown-flower-bowl-setjpeg.jpeg

debra frances plett stories of the forest, paper, wood, bookbinding

Stop in, look around, maybe join the Craft Council or take part in one of the many making workshops that are happening this winter.

Afternoon tea with Destiny, Gunda, Terry, and Harlan

I am not actually having afternoon tea with Destiny, Gunda, Terry, and Harlan but, oh, how nice that would be!  But they are here with me regardless.  Harlan House’s Row House candle holder is always somewhere easily in sight.  Oh, what a nice man Harlan is.  He stopped having his annual open houses a couple of years ago but he still takes calls from collectors and clients and hasn’t stopped working.  He just wants to set his own schedule and after more than 50 years of working with porcelain surely he has earned it.  Harlan has also left another legacy.  He spent the past couple of years working on a digital book.  You can find it on his website – just search Google or ask Siri.  Last week he said that I knew everything that was in it but he hoped it would help my students.  And, indeed, it will just like the videos that he has inserted in his site have helped them to understand the great amount of effort that one has to put into trimming if they want to work with porcelain.  Most are too much of a hurry to allow the porcelain to cure as it dries.  For those of you who read my article on Harlan in Art and Perception you will know this story but, for those of you that don’t, it is a good way to remember to take care with your work.  You can have a giggle, too.  Harlan built a room within his carriage house studio to dry his porcelain.  He put regular household bricks on the floor and there were windows and those baby humidifiers from the 1970s shooting out their warm mist.  His thrown pieces were on shelves where he could see them through the windows.  He said, “These platters are kind of like a love affair.  At first, everything is perfect.  Then about two weeks in you start to notice little things begin to happen” – an upturn of the lip -.  He would remove the pieces, place them back on the wheel and return them to dry.  I never did find out how many trips those large thrown platters made in and out.  By the time they made it to the gallery they were exceptional. but

Gunda is never far away but, this weekend she is firing her wood kiln in Canyon, BC getting ready for the last big market of the year.  Her temmokus are luscious – I do repeat that often.  They break at the rim and over the finger marks into a gorgeous kaki.  Someone told me once that she could “just fire them in a gas kiln”.  Of course, she could but then she would not be part of the complete process.  She often makes her own clays and mixes her own glazes.  She is part of every aspect of the firing and my back breaks when I think of her climbing in and out of her Manibigama kiln with the heavy silicon carbide shelves.  But, if she put everything in the gas kiln it would lose that subtle softness that only comes with wood firing.  Gunda is the only studio potter I know of that makes her teapots so that you can actually fit, with ease, one of those large strainers in the top opening.  I thank her every time I want to make a full pot…and she is with me in spirit every day otherwise I would find myself travelling to BC far too often.

This is what I mean when I talk about the joy that quality handmade items make to your life.  I am not talking about the “crap” out there and the word “craft” still gets a bad name from people who purchase bags of parts of things and assemble them together and call themselves an artist.  It takes a long time of study and the mastery of the material to be someone whose work won’t make it into the garage sale in five years time.  Terry Hildebrand is young.  I wrote about my favourite plates of his yesterday.  Today one of them is holding the offering of lemon and rosemary scones to my guest while Destiny Seymour’s textile ties the whole lot of these lovely people together.

We have a very close friend, Ruby, who is a Cree Medicine Woman.  She deals with the dead.  But she has imparted a lot of wisdom to me over the years (thank you, Ruby).  One thing that I learned is to only surround yourself with the work of “good” people.  Remove the objects made by those who carry negative energy.  The world is full of it, why bring that into your house?  How lucky am I then to be having Saturday afternoon tea with such a remarkable, creative group of good and kind people?  Think about that when you are shopping, too and support these wonderful makers who have chosen to live a creative life.

Don’t Miss Out – One more day for the Crafted Show and Sale at the Winnipeg Art Gallery!

The Crafted Show and Sale is on at the Winnipeg Art Gallery til 9pm tonight, Friday November 2 with doors opening Saturday from 11am to 5pm.  This is the fourth year that the WAG has opened its doors so that  Manitobans can see the talents of more than fifty of its artists.  The entry fee is $5.

Once inside the door you are welcomed by the team that put together a great charity event.  Twenty of the ceramists and their bowls were teamed up with twenty of Manitoba’s top chefs to create a cookbook.  They are selling for $10 and the majority of the proceeds will go to Winnipeg Harvest.  It is beautifully designed and illustrated and is the perfect gift for all of you looking for a Surprise Santa gift.  Going along with the theme of soup and soup bowls, you can actually have your lunch while shopping.  On offer for $5 a bowl are Smoked Arctic Char Chowder, Curried Green Pea Soup, Chilled Roasted Golden Beet Soup, and Hemp Mulligatawny.  And if that wasn’t enough there is also White Bean Soup, Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Kale and Potato, Carolina Crab Bisque along with Vegan Carrot.  It is a great opportunity to rest between floors!  and visit with friends.  Despite it being a Friday, visitors were already flooding the stalls by 1pm.  One of my favorites Indigo Arrows, beautiful hand made and printed textiles by Destiny Seymour, was almost sold out by the time I got to the 4th floor.  Her simple designs on lovely dyed linen represent Destiny’s Cree heritage.

But, I have to admit that it really is heart warming to see so many talented ceramic artists that have been students at the School of Art.  Terry Hildebrandt has just returned from getting his MFA in Alberta (featured image).  Check out his beautiful wood and soda fired work up on the Mezzenine Floor.  He is right on the left as you exit the stairs.  I have a ‘soft spot’ for Terry’s plates, my collection extending back to when he was an undergrad student and more recently some of the most stunning plates found at the Manitoba Craft Centre’s shop.  Directly across from Terry is the talented Jessica Hodgson who not only creates work and teaches at The Edge Clay Centre but also works for the Manitoba Craft Council (busy young lady).  Alan Lacovetsky is part of the cooperative at the Mostly Stoneware Gallery.  His studio is located in St Andrew’s.  Alan is part of the Interlake Wave Studio tour that takes place in the spring and again the beginning of September.  It’s a nice drive and a great chance to check out his wood kiln!

The number of ceramic artists boogles the mind and again is a testament to the thriving ceramic community both within Winnipeg and out.  Their work is so varied and is a reflection of their strong creative spirit.   I do apologize if I miss anyone – you are all fabulous.  PJ Anderson combines her love for basketry and ceramics into distinctive smoked fire vessels.  I have always admired Kelli Rey’s sense of humour and her wonderful ability to handle clay since I first curated her work into the exhibition, Soup and Sustenance, in 2008.  That show also had a charitable theme with the gala soup dinner tickets going to the Portage la Prairie soup kitchen.  Funny too…it was a bit of a snowy blustery day back then.  Several other members of the Mostly Stoneware Gallery are included including the rising young talent of Teegan Walker and the work of the celebrated Kathryne Koop.

I could go on and on…the list of clay makers is long.  But I also want to call attention to two special people on the first floor.  The first is the ceramic technician for the School of Art, Chris Pancoe.  Check out his fermenting jars and his soup bowls.  Valerie Metcalfe, one of the founders of the Mostly Stoneware Gallery on Corydon, is next to Candice Ring just a short walk away.  I have admired Valerie’s work for decades but this year my heart went out to her as she and a group of devoted citizens tried to protect a wooded area, home to a large number of deer, near to where I live, from being destroyed by urban expansion.  In response, she made a lovely series of work specially dedicated to the Parker Forest and Wet Lands.  It was because of that big heart of hers that I had to break a promise not to bring any more ceramics into my house.  Valerie, I am sitting here enjoying the nicest green tea from that gilded mug.  What a tearful day it was and what will now happen to those deer that so long have called this area home?  One found its way into the traffic by Jubilee and Pembina.  Thankfully it wasn’t killed.

Ceramic artists share so many social and environmental concerns while at the same time making objects and vessels to enrich our daily lives.  The Crafted Sale has more than clay but, why not tomorrow, begin thinking of who might need something for the holidays – a teacher, someone in your family, a friend – and head down to the WAG for the last day of Crafted.  Have your lunch, buy a cookbook and feel good about helping others.  You won’t regret it!

End of Day 5: The Kiln is Finished! Matt Boyd laid the last brick in the last course of the chimney around 4:45pm. Wow.

Everyone has either brought bisque work or created objects that will be loaded tomorrow.  The kiln will be fired with dry Poplar logs on Thursday for about 14 hours so that we can reach cone 14.

Markus mixed up some amazing short bodied heavily grogged clay.  All of the participants and Markus worked on the wheels (Diane Laluk made masks) and those vessels have been drying in the kiln room or out in the sun to be loaded tomorrow raw.  Can’t wait to see how the lick of the flames changes them.

It has been a great experience.  Everyone seems to have much more confidence, realized talents and muscles they hadn’t used for awhile, and made some new friends.  You literally could feel the ‘cooperation and respect’.

Now if you are looking for some experience building a similar kiln and live near Maple Creek Saskatchewan, get in touch with Zach and Adrienne at Smiling Cow Studios.  They already have their pad ready and will start the build in about a week.  Zach is an incredibly nice guy – drive over and give them a hand.  I am certain that they would come and help you!  Pass along this information to anyone that you know.

This Bourry box kiln with the extended throat should fire beautifully using little wood.  It is time to think of the environment and to slow down.  Will post some of the images when the pieces come out of the kiln!  There are going to be some beauties!

Susan Delatour: Crossing Bridges

3-2.1In 1978, Susan Delatour came to Canada from the United States, as a post-graduate student, to study ceramics at the Banff Centre’s School of Fine Arts in Banff, Alberta.  It was there, in the beauty of the mountains and lakes, that Delatour suspended her wheel throwing practice and embraced the expressiveness of hand building.  Encouraged by Les Manning, she began to experiment with various forms of firing including pit or sawdust firing and raku.

On completion of her studies at Banff, Delatour relocated to Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia where she set up a production studio in the centre of the village.  With the financial downturn, Delatour and her then-husband, Steven LePoidevin, sought out alternative means of earning a living.  He returned to teaching while Delatour set up a studio at their new home in Princeton, British Columbia, where she also raised the couples, two sons.  At the time, she relied on two kilns, one electric and one sawdust.

Delatour’s early exposure to alternative firing methods helped her to develop a deep passion for creating primitive fired ceramic sculptures which she notes are full of ‘mystery and allegory.’  She smokes her pieces in a brick box, a practice she has been using for many years because the method incorporates shadows into her work that evoke ‘ancestors and generations of people who came before us’.  Her work honours the animals that live in the surrounding environment, as well as people and places that have touched her ‘in significant ways’.

She is currently working on a new series entitled Crossing Bridges, a reference to the universal life-changing events that we experience such as ageing and changing relationships.  In 2014, Delatour turned sixty years old, a pivotal moment that had a profound influence on her new body of work.  Her parents died, her two sons got married, and she became a grandmother.  One of her sons lives in China while the other is on the eastern coast of Canada; Delatour is in the middle, a place from where it is not easy to physically visit with her children on a regular basis.  The theme of the ‘bridge’, an object that connects something to another, that allows us to cross over, also represents aspects of transnationalism.  Delatour struggles with her identity;  she is an American living in Canada.  She tries to understand migration, immigration, and the crossing of borders, all aspects of her new series and her life.

Her work is exhibited internationally including some of the most prestigious juried exhibitions in Asia including the 6th Taiwan Golden Ceramics Exhibition in Taipei and the 3rd World Ceramics Biennale in 2005 in Seoul, South Korea.  Delatour is another unrecognized Canadian talent.  She also teaches workshops.   That is a hint to anyone looking for someone who really knows their way around sawdust and pit firing!