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.

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

ursula neufelde checkered past

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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.

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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.

It’s that time of year…holiday shopping and the Stoneware Gallery sale

I am not sure if it really feels like fall anymore in Winnipeg now that we have had our first dusting of snow but, it is time for all of the local pottery groups to be having their annual sales.  The Stoneware Gallery has been a cooperative venture since 1976, forty-two years ago.  Almost a decade ago I had lunch with Valerie Metcalfe and she was worried that the coop would not be able to attract young people to fill the places of the retiring members.  Fast forward eight years and the site on Corydon Street in Winnipeg is bustling.  They offer wheel throwing classes from September to June; there is always a waitlist.  It is an excellent place to start as a beginner or to remove the rust from once trained hands.  Members take turns in the gallery shop that represents the emerging talents and the well-established potters of our City.

Beginning tomorrow, the members will be opening their doors for a four-day sale.  For those of you looking for a secret Santa gift or for one for your valued other, you will find whatever it is you are looking for.  Steve Jorgenson has been making his casseroles for three generations of buyers.  Kathryne Koop and Valerie Metcalfe have marvelled all of us with their decorative porcelain while Alan Lacovetsky brings in his special wood-fired pieces.  These are the people that I know best but Barb Balfour has her raku and Jennifer Johnson has been getting assistance in spontaneous decorating from her two daughters.

Take an hour, drive over to Corydon Avenue, pick up some gifts for the holidays or, maybe just something for yourself.  Helping support someone who makes their living by making beautiful handmade ceramics is a ‘good thing’.

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!