Saturday, 28 April 2012

What are you planting? Planted Pots and more…

Ceramic chainmaille sculpture by Jason Holley of Newfoundland

This spring week I have been working on a variety of projects that will bear fruit in the coming months.  Rarely do I get the opportunity to work on only one thing at a time…that's real life isn't it?  We all live there.

This is what I'd like to share with you this week: an upcoming ceramics symposium in Halifax.

I am really looking forward to this. Why? For one:  I get to work with some dynamite colleagues of mine.  Like Sandra Alfoldy the reigning queen of Canadian craft theory and the current curator of ceramics at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; Rachel Gotlieb the tell-it-like-it-is new curator of contemporary ceramics at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in TO; and Robin Metcalfe, my favourite, fearless bad boy of the curatorial world, who is the director and curator at Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, and the venue for the next stop on the Alexandra McCurdy tour.   
One of Alexandra McCurdy's prints from her lingerie series.  Working on this show gave me a whole new appreciation of the evolution of feminism.

Reason number two:  The collections and shows that I will get to see. Sandra A will be showing us her new toys or recent acquisitions at the AGNS. St. Mary's will have a little jewel box of a show of historical ceramics and the opening of the McCurdy show will be one of the events as well.  Alex and I have worked out a walk and talk where we bounce back and forth from the artist's perspective and the curator's perspective.  Believe me they aren't the same.  But like yin and yang they fit together.

Reason number three:  the talks, I am looking forward to hearing the presentations of my colleagues, catching up on shop talk, conspiring for the future and making my own presentation, which will be about contemporary ceramic practice in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I have seen such growth in the field of ceramics within NL since 1993.  It is staggering.  Yeah team!

See you there.

Planted Pots: Ceramics in Context
A Symposium
NSCAD University, Bell Auditorium
Friday, 25 May 2012

Co-presented by                         NSCAD University, Craft Division &
                                                Saint Mary's University Art Gallery

Planted Pots: Ceramics in Context examines issues associated with ceramics on display in Halifax this May: how social realities such as immigration and the status of women in mid-century Canada are reflected in the development of ceramics, particularly in Atlantic Canada, and the introduction of European Modernist aesthetics to local ceramics practice. Exhibited works include mid-century ceramics by immigrant couples (Alma & Ernst Lorenzen; Erica & Kjeld Deichmann), contemporary works by trans-Atlantic immigrants such as Roman Bartkiw and Alexandra McCurdy, and ceramics by emerging Atlantic ceramists such as Jason Holley.

An opening reception for the symposium will begin at 6:00 pm on Thursday, 24 May at Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, in conjunction with the opening of the exhibitions The Fabric of Clay: Alexandra McCurdy (a collaboration with Burlington Art Centre; curator: Gloria Hickey) and Lorenzen Pottery: 50 Years in the Making (curator: Victor Owen).

Symposium Schedule

1:00 pm            Welcome & opening remarks – Robin Metcalfe, Director/Curator, Saint Mary's University Art Gallery

1:15 pm            Married to Pottery: a presentation by Rachel Gotlieb, Senior Curator, Gardiner Museum, on mid 20th Century European immigrant ceramists in Canada who worked collaboratively as husband and wife

2:15 pm            Coffee break

2:30 pm            Clay on the Rock: Critic & curator Gloria Hickey on contemporary ceramics in Newfoundland & Labrador

3:30 pm            Wrap up – Dr Sandra Alfoldy, Professor of Craft History & Chair, Historical and Critical Studies, NSCAD University and Associate Curator of Fine Craft, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

4:00 pm            Sandra Alfoldy will give a Curator’s Tour of ceramics on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, including work by Jason Holley and Roman Bartkiw, and a special peek at recently acquired works by Erica and Kjeld Deichmann.

5:00 pm            Social time: open for participants to avail themselves of the many bars and restaurants in downtown Halifax

Monday, 23 April 2012

Calling all Craft Curators: Dirty, Democratic & Exquisite

Invitation image from Dirt, Detrius & Vermin- exhibition at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, a curatorial composition of the work of Cal Lane (dirt lace on the floor), Sarah Wright Cheney (exquisite onion skin cockroaches) and Sarah Saunders (whisper thin porcelain hankies) ran 21 May 2011 to 8 August 2011 co-curated by Ingrid Jenker & Katie Belcher - one of my all time favourite shows!

Title: Dirty, Democratic & Exquisite,
A round-table on Curatorial Strategies for Craft in 2012

There has never been a more exciting or rewarding time to be a curator working with craft than now.  Through practices like post-disciplinary craft, sloppy craft and craftivism, craft has gained a new social and intellectual relevance to a growing audience among the general public, special interest groups, and professional and non-professional craft practioners.  Performance art, intangible cultural heritage, and up-cycling have eroded the status of the connoiseur's craft object and questioned previously valued notions of precious materials and labour-soaked and skill based techniques.  Professors Google and You Tube threaten both traditional master-apprentice and its later more contemporary incarnations of learning models at art and design colleges.  Global citizenship blurs regional craft traditions.  The practice and products of craft have never been more diverse and unpredictable. 

From In an ancient garden: Lucky Rabbit Pottery (Debra Kuzyk & Ray Mackie) this was in the downstairs gallery at MSVU at the same time as the show in the previous image.  I had an absolute blast with the colour for these walls.

How does the radically changing social and economic landscape impact the professional practice of craft curation?  What curatorial strategies are most appropriate to craft exhibitions and events?  What has worked in your experience as a curator?

Curators practicing in the fields of "art and design", craft and aboriginal culture are invited to submit proposals – comprised of a list of questions or issues they wish to discuss plus a short bio – for a round table discussion of curatorial strategies for craft in 2012.  Participants should expect to speak formally for ten minutes with the support of visuals in a Powerpoint format.

The colour was meant to showcase the pottery but also to evoke their inspiration.  The spice of the Far East for example where Deb & Ray and their daughter have been travelling.  The staff at MSVU were a pleasure to work with.

Interested parties should contact:  Gloria Hickey, 16 Byron Street, St. John's, NL A1B 3B7, (709) 753-0623, with a short list of questions or issues they would like to discuss and a short bio before June 4, 2012.

The conference will be November 1-3, 2012 in Montreal at Concordia University.  Here is the link to the Universities Art Association of Canada website:

Monday, 16 April 2012

Ego, Glass and the Economic Downturn

Transparent Banded Vortex Vase by Michael Trimpol of Little River Hotglass, all photos courtesy of Michael

From April 7 to the 14th, I had the good fortune to visit my native city of Montreal – something I had not done for ten years.  Even with the student protests, rolling strikes at Air Canada and general mayhem it was thoroughly enjoyable.  Of course, I went to museums, galleries and bookstores but I was most impressed with the store windows.  I had forgotten what a sense of style pervades the city from food to fashion.

One of the highlights of the trip was an evening's visit with longtime friend, Michael Trimpol, of Little River Hotglass, which is based in Stowe Vermont.  I have always been fond of Michael and a fan of his work in glass.  They both possess a quiet confidence, a certain inevitability and a complete lack of pretence.  They are what they are.  Trimpol used to be, perhaps still is, a collector of seashells.  His perfume bottles and vases have a striking, simple beauty like the world of organic objects.  Vibrantly coloured, precisely detailed and memorable.  Have you ever stared at a tropical fish and thought this couldn't be designed any better?  The colour is perfect, the stripe is in exactly the right place…that's the way I feel about Michael Trimpol's glass objects.  They are drop dead gorgeous.  And that's it…no message, no banners, no meaning that I need to decode.  I know I need beauty in my life, like I need sunshine and that's what I get from his glass.
 Transparent Banded Bowl

I have always been struck by Michael's lack of swagger.  The glass art world has more than its share of egotists.  Dale Chihuly years and years ago was visibly annoyed with me for not acting like a groupy.  And I've had Lutz Haufschild tell me with an absolute straight face that he had a superiority complex!  Glass artists are the rock stars of the craft world.  I won't go on about it.  Suffice it to say, that Michael Trimpol is extraordinary for his lack of bravado in and out of the studio.

Glass art has obtained some of the highest prices in the craft marketplace.  I wonder if it is taking a beating in the economic downturn.  After dinner, Michael and I peered in the windows of Birks the jewellery and fine collectibles store.  Naturally, we studied the glass together.  And we compared notes over Ireland and the fate of Waterford crystal, which has been laying off glassblowers.  Competition for the leisure dollar has never been fiercer.  It will be interesting to watch future trends.  May Little River Hotglass live long and prosper.

Perfume Bottles and Paperweight from the Helix group of designs by Michael Trimpol of Little River Hotglass 

Monday, 2 April 2012

"I don't collect art, I collect artists"

1886-1919 by Michael Flaherty, white earthenware,glaze, terra sigillata, photo courtesy of the artist

I spent a good part of my energy last week rewriting an article for C magazine.  It is a review of Michael Flaherty's exhibition Rangifer Sapiens, which translates from Latin, as wise caribou.  I have always been interested in Flaherty's work because it was clear he stood out from the herd (no pun intended).  He was a very different kind of creature than most potters or ceramic artists that I have had the pleasure and occasionally frustration of working with or writing about. 

And I know a good number of clay folk.  You figure when I edited Fusion magazine back in Toronto the Ontario Clay and Glass Association had a membership of 800.  I've also worked with the Nova Scotia Guild of Potters and similar groups in New Brunswick, Alberta, etc.  One of my fondest memories is of working out at Banff for Les Manning.  I have a collection of thank you pots from Robert Archambeau, Harlan House, Ron Roy, Lucky Rabbit Pottery, Brian Banfield, King's Point Pottery, and sculpture from Ann Roberts, Reed Weir and Aleksandr Sorotchynski.  A collector once asked me "what kind of art do you collect?"  To which I responded, "I don't collect art, I collect artists.  (The flip side of that is because I was an arts writer I couldn't afford to purchase from galleries.)

1882-1951 by Michael Flaherty, white earthenware,glaze, terra sigillata, photo courtesy of the artist

When I moved to St. John's, NL the thank you presents were at first from painters like Shawn O'Hagan and others.  I've also framed my thank you prints from Christine Koch.  I have a tiny framed weaving of a polar bear from Suzanne Swannie that she made after her time in the arctic.  I still remember her saying about the Inuit ladies she worked with, "they sew like angels".  She really prized those tiny neat stitches.  It resonated with her European sensibility of masterful technique.  There was a touring show from the Textile Museum that was on at a gallery in Halifax a few years ago.  It featured a 2-storey high figure of a plump naked woman made out of plush, acrylic fur.  In retrospect I realize it was about body image and related issues.  When we talked about that show, Suzanne said simply that it made her sick.  She found it revolting.  That's when I realized how the landscape of craft was changing.  It wasn't just about technique or materials anymore it was about issues.  Big issues.

By the time that review of C magazine rolls off the presses it will represent more than two weeks of my time.  I spent a day in the Newfoundland Study Centre at the MUN library reading about caribou (can you tell the difference from a Newfoundland caribou and a Labrador caribou?), days on line reading about resettlement in the province, I looked at back issues of C magazine, researched Flaherty's past work and of course spent at least two hours in the exhibition I was reviewing drawing and making notes.  The funny thing is I don't know whether I will get paid for it.  I never even asked. Occasionally I write for scholarly journals because I enjoy the critical rigour and the disciplined thinking it requires.  They usually don't offer writer's fees, as their writers are career academics, which are expected to "publish or perish".  C magazine has an excellent editor, Amish Morrell.  He is thoughtful and sensitive and knows how to read between the lines and tease out ideas.  Working with him is professional development for me as a thinker and writer.  My other motive in doing the article is that I want to encourage Michael Flaherty.  I don't know his career aspirations per se but I suspect he is destined for a university or art college position.  His work deserves critical attention and if he wants that position in the future he will need a resume with a review from C magazine on it.