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.
Ann Cummings arrived in Canada in 1974. She first lived in Edmonton and then moved to Toronto the following year. She says that she “wanted to get as far away from Detroit as she possibly could”. For those that do not know the history of race riots in the United States, Detroit was at the heart of many of them. They began in 1967 when Detroit erupted and caused further riots across Michigan. Imagine the US government trying to end the riots y sending in the Army National Guard. 43 dead, 1189 injured, 7200 arrests with 2000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot that year in Detroit was only eclipsed by the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Like so many of those who came to Canada in resistance to the Vietnam War and the social ills of America in the 1960s and 70s, Cummings has been working with clay for more than fifty years. Her work has continued to evolve.
Cummings attended Wayne State University where she graduated with a BFA degree in ceramics and drawing. She has also attended the Archie Bray Foundation (1973), Sheridan College (1976) and was a resident artist at the Banff Center for the Arts in 1992. Cummings early work centred on wheel thrown vessel forms. Later, she created work that was both personally expressive and decorative. She also started using raku firing methods, a technique that she has taught to hundreds of students. She now works in cast and moulded porcelain sculpture. The subject of her new work is memory.
Her first studio in Toronto was with a few other Sheridan graduates in a large warehouse. Later she was at Harbourfront and later at The Spiral Potter in the Beaches area of Toronto. Eventually, like so many of us, she set up her studio in part of her home in Toronto – the basement. I wonder how many of us have done this? Today, Cummings lives outside of Toronto in Port Perry where she has a 900 sq foot studio, a LPG soda kiln and a raku kiln for workshops. She also does extensive firings in her electric kiln. Nothing has slowed her down from the day she crossed into Canada. She is still working, is still part of the studio tours in her region, she teaches workshops after years of successful teaching at George Brown College, Sheridan College, and Ontario College of Art to name only a few.
Cummings has been represented by the Prime Gallery, the premier Canadian gallery for ceramics in Toronto and has had many solo exhibitions in Alberta and Ontario. Most recently, her work was shown at the David Kaye Gallery in Toronto (2016) and at the Art Gallery of Burlington (2017). Cummings was in included in numerous group exhibitions. They include the Propeller Centre for the Arts in Toronto Invitational (2013-15), the Jingdezhen International Invitational Ceramic Fair in China (2009), the Work from Heart, Mind, and Hand Exhibition at the John B. Aird Gallery in Toronto (2009) to name only a few. Images and discussions of her work are included in the late Robin Hopper’s The Ceramic Spectrum, Paul Scott’s Painted Clay, Graphic Arts and the Ceramic Surface, Peter Dormer’s The New Ceramics: Trends and Traditions, as well as John Gibson’s The Decorated Vessel: Contemporary Approaches to name only a few. In addition, her work has appeared in numerous ceramics magazines including Ceramics Monthly, Fusion, and Contact Magazine.
I received a Canada Council Jean A Chalmers Grant to conduct research into the impact that Vietnam era resisters who came to Canada had on Canadian ceramics. To date, there are 117 individuals in my study. Conference presentations have been given in Dublin, at the University of Szeged in Hungary, and at the first Craft Biennale at the Art Gallery of Burlington. Articles are in press and exhibitions are being planned. I am still seeking individuals who fit my profile: came to Canada because they did not wish to be part of the support for the Vietnam War and who were already trained in ceramics or learned after they immigrated in order to make a living. If you know of someone, please have them contact me at my university e-mail address: email@example.com
The image on today’s posting is Walter Ostrom’s China Bottle. Ostrom came to Canada because of the Vietnam War in 1969. He had a contract to teach at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax. Ostrom was elated because he would be teaching at one of the hippest art schools in North America but also because he was going to be living in Canada: ‘The land of Pierre Trudeau, a friend of both Castro and draft dodgers, leading a nation of peaceniks’.
This is the post excerpt.
2019 seemed to pass with the blink of an eye. In late October I was with a very good friend speaking at the UAAC Conference in Quebec City. Six weeks later I returned to that gorgeous historic city. Could I live there when I retire?
JA Moisan is the oldest grocery store in North America. It was founded in 1871. They have a bakery, a deli, a place for packaged meals to take home, a wall of speciality salts, olive oils, vinegar, Kusmi teas, coffees, candies – you name it! There is cheese, fresh fruit, and the best croissants in the city. There is seating for about ten persons. Stop and rest your feet – have a latte and a croissant or the daily special. Take home some chocolate. The interior is the same as it was in the 1920s and 30s. Soak it in.
Want to be pampered? After the beginning of November, the Chateau Frontenac has specials. The hotel is located in the Old City right at the top by the funicular. Beginning at the end of November to the third week in December, the German market with all of its little wooden stalls stretches from the Frontenac down through this historic part of the City. The best fish and chips are at either of the pubs on the main drag as you enter the Old City on St. Jean. One serves Murphy’s while the other serves Guinness – Murphy’s for the Irish, Guinness for the British with a hallway between them linking the two together. As you wander down the street there is a lovely bookshop with stationary and a good English section as well as a fine cashmere store. One of the problems for me was that there were just too many ‘tourist shops’ with any and all things made in China as a souvenir for Quebec City. You see them everywhere! Sometimes it is difficult to find nice local shops in the middle of all that.
Every year the Frontenac has a Christmas tree competition. They were magical!
And there is always a gingerbread house made like the hotel:
In all of this, I dreamed of returning when it was nice and warm as well as travelling to Scotland in April and then doing a residency in France. But we now know what happened to all of that – the arrival of COVID-19.
It has been an unexpected gift being isolated because I am now turning my attention back to those amazing potters and ceramic artists who came to Canada during the Vietnam era. The plan is for more articles and finally the book! Stay tuned.