Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Life after Christmas

A pile of Paul McClure's metal tags from Chicago

Christmas is over and hopefully we all have a few days to relax.  In my case, that means finally getting to the pile of catalogues I want to enjoy.  Not just read but enjoy.  Mull over, stroke the photos…

I will finally get to have a leisurely visit with Quintet, the jewellery and metal art catalogue featuring Shona Kearney, Martha Glenny, Paul McClure, Wing Ki Chan and Katherine Miller.  Good stuff all round: lovely wrap around cover with a tab closure, embossed design and close to 90 pages.  Not for a quick read.

While I was in Chicago I got to meet Paul McClure.  I was intrigued to discover he had a surprisingly sunny disposition and a great sense of humour, something you don't take for granted from a man who makes such serious work.  He was giving away these GATC brooches.  Here's what they say on the card: The LOVE icon of the 1960s by American artist Robert Indiana is re-imagined as an icon for our genetic age.  G, A, T, and C are the symbols used to denote the four nucleotides that make up the genetic code of the DNA molecule: Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine.

GATC is a biological acronym for the code of life.  The metal tag is folded over clothing and worn as jewellery about the body, on the body.

The other catalogue I am looking forward to digging into is Michael Massie's 50@50, produced by his gallery in British Columbia, Spirit Wrestler.  Michael kindly sent it to me along with a letter reporting on the opening and sales.  It's been almost ten years since I did Michael's big show for The Rooms but he still keeps in touch; that's the mark of a pro.  The only thing I noticed is that he still doesn't sign his catalogues!  That's something his collectors complained to me about back in 2002.  Remember kids, when someone buys your art they are collecting you too.  Enjoy the attention.

Greg Payce is another artist whose career I've followed with interest and who has maintained contact with over more than a decade.  Check out his fabulous feline Christmas card.

Finally, one my all time favourite Christmas card comes from Ingrid Jenkner (Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery) and her partner photographer George Steeves.  Their's is an envelope I always open first from the mail pile because I know I am in for a treat: subtle, eccentric and outspoken all at once.  I'll try and post the image if I get permission.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Studio Magazine's New Strategy

Back in October I received this letter from Leopold Kowolik, the new editor in chief at Studio magazine which is published by the Ontario Crafts Council with contributions from sister Craft Councils across Canada.
It is an invitation to be part of a committee that is mapping out the strategy for the magazine's next five years.  I think it is important to set goals whether it is personally or professionally - otherwise, how do you define your success?  To me, having a national crafts magazine is important, especially if you don't live in Central Canada.  As well, I think a combination of big issues expressed in accessible language plus craft news from across Canada is important.  And that, in a nutshell, is what I told them.
Yes, that's Nicola Hawkins on the cover.

Dear Gloria, Janna, Michael and Gord,

Emma Quin, in her capacity as Executive Director, is in the process of developing a 5-year plan for the OCC. She will present this plan to the board of the OCC and along with that a set of mission statements and mandates for each part of the OCC's organisation.

Studio is a part of this organisation and Emma has asked that a committee be convened to lay out such a document for Studio Magazine.

I would like you to join me on this Committee.
Our goal is clear and simple: to compile a single page document which articulates the three elements of Studio's identity: Vision, Mission and Mandate.

I have requested your presence on this committee as you each have a familiarity with Studio and our general, nebulously defined, current mandate. You also have a sense of craft's identity in contemporary Canadian culture. Most importantly, I feel that you each share belief in the potential for critical discourse in craft, albeit from differing viewpoints.

The demands on your time will be minimal:
a)1-2 hours preparatory reading
b)one 2-hour meeting
c)<1 hour concluding reading.

I will pull together a draft document based on the parallel document already drawn-up for the OCC gallery and exhibition dept. I will also compile extracts from similar documents for comparable publications. You will then be asked to consider these documents and assemble your thoughts for a meeting we will hold in Toronto during mid-to-late November 2012.(The meeting was held last week and there will be further discussion at the end of January.)

At that meeting we will discuss our various opinions and reach consensus on Studio's Vision, Mission and Mandate. I will then draw up a final draft of the document and then recirculate it by email. Any further discussion can be concluded by email and a final document will be submitted to Emma by mid-December.

I realise that you are all very busy and that further demands on your time must be justified. Let me therefore state that this is essential work.

(I tease Leopold about his idealism but he is genuine.  I've added the italics for emphasis.)
I believe that Studio can be the central resource for high-level critical discourse in a material culture weekly addressed by art and art discourse and under threat from mass-production (and the appropriation of 'Craft' as a marketing tool.) How Studio positions itself and what identity it chooses to adopt can be of fundamental importance in this hour of civilisation. Crafting and finding authenticity in material lies at the heart of twenty-first century issues; Studio requires the best possible identity if it is to have the fortitude to weather and respond to the demands that can and will be made of it in this pursuit. The clearest, best and most diverse opinions about Studio are therefore required and that is why this committee requires you.
view of the OCC's gallery and its recent glass art show

Please let me know if you will be unable to join, otherwise please let me know if there are days/weeks in mid-late November when you will be unable to meet so that we can set-up that meeting asap. I will then circulate the documents I mention within the next month.

Many thanks


Leopold Kowolik Editor in Chief

Studio Magazine
Ontario Crafts Council 
990 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON, M6J 1H1
t: 647-519-5260 | f:

Studio unites Canada's diverse craft communities and shares our values with society-at-large. Studio is the source for thought-provoking and lively conversation about the culture, politics and issues shaping craft today. Studio is essential reading for everyone passionate about contemporary fine craft and design in Canada.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christina Parker's New Gallery Space Shines

Diana Dabinett's vibrant paintings inspired by her residency in Costa Rica in 2010.

It was a delightful Monday afternoon surprise to discover the Christina Parker Gallery open at its new location on 50 Water Street.  The space is bright and airy even on a foggy afternoon and overlooks the St. John's Harbour, which is no doubt an added bonus to tourists discovering the city's charms.

What struck me as I walked the length of the gallery and taking in the varied art on the wall and pedestals was the sense of growth and maturation that several of our local artists have acquired.  For example, I have always been a fan of Peter Drysdale's quirky sculpture composed of found objects.  But the works that were on display showed a new sense of resolution and design sophistication that I would not have associated with his earlier work.  The over-busy quality was gone and it was like the static on a radio channel had disappeared and the words were coming across clearly.

Dianna Dabinett's paintings of tropical flowers were also impressive.  The smaller scale came across as more focused than the previous larger scale works, especially those on silk or mixed media.  This was Dabinett doing what she does best: making us fall in love with the sensuous beauty of nature.  The brighter colours and compositions in the horizontal format were irresistible.

Ned Pratt's Landline series of photographs earned him a solid place in the Pratt dynasty.

Ned Pratt's photos from the Landline series and Kim Greeley's landscape paintings made an intriguing but probably unintentional pairing.  The whole notion of the human presence in the landscape, whether by farm structures (Pratt) or the yellow striped highway (Greeley) is tackled with dramatic subtlety and contemporary flair.  They both have the potential of developing renditions of our landscape that are truly iconic rather than cliché.  Pratt seems to have found his voice with this Landline series.

In terms of new names (at least new to me), Michael Fantuz, caught my attention.  In particular I was taken with his large (40" x 40") black and white oils interpreting the abandoned communities near Burgeo.  I preferred them over the coloured landscapes which seemed more overtly picturesque.  The black and white paintings seemed more dramatic but less sentimental.  And even though very large they didn't seem inflated.  The large scale seemed to invite viewers to step inside and enter a world apart from the gallery.  They had authority and expressiveness.  It did my heart good to note several red "sold" stickers on both the brightly coloured and more austere black and white paintings.

This image shows both the black & white, and the coloured paintings of Fantuz.  Which do you prefer?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Collectors and Change - collecting art in uncertain times

An installation by Lino Tagliapetra a maestro among glass artists.  This image came from the Schantz galleries.

I have been asked by some of you to comment further on my observations of collectors at the recent Chicago SOFA show.  So, here goes:

There is a remarkable difference between American and Canadian collectors in my experience.  At the risk of generalization, I will say that American collectors tend to be more upfront and less shy of being noticed and actually enjoy their share of the limelight.  By contrast, the Canadian collecting community tends to be more private and actually asks not to be mentioned in the press or to have their homes featured in magazines.  More than once, I have been handed hard cover books documenting an American collection and I still remember going to one party and noticing a Dale Chilhuly vessel being used as a soap dish in a bathroom.  Mr. Snyderman of the gallery by the same name mentioned to our group that he had actually "gotten out of the glass scene" because he found the competition between the glass collectors distasteful.  It was "well you got one, I've got two" style of one-upmanship.  On the other hand, I have had tea in more than one living room in Canada with a Monet hanging on the wall and I've been asked to not mention it in an article just because of security hassles.

Speaking of glass art, it was the most noticeable selling high-end art.  I had fun tailing one couple and watched them drop close to $250,000 by the end of the fair.  It was not unusual to see a piece of sculpture go for $65,000.  The sheer range of price tags at the SOFA intrigued me.  There was literally something for everyone –under $100 upwards.  I was also surprised by the overall quality–and I mean museum quality–of the art on display.  I did not expect to see such consistent quality over such a large show.  And the dealers came from as far away as the U.K. and Israel to sell.  It was truly a pleasure to see a Hans Coper that wasn't behind Plexiglas.
Another Lino piece.  This one is very similar to the piece chosen for the cover of the SOFA catalogue.

I wondered how many collections there are out there that will migrate from private to public collections.  With the graying of our population that is increasingly the case.  However, just like your bookshelf at home institutions have limited space available to store, maintain, and display them not to mention the human resources to work with them.  Even in Toronto, I have heard more than one conversation between a dealer and a collector where the collector asks for an institutional discount saying that is where the collection will ultimately go.  I think it will become much harder to donate to public institutions in the future as space shrinks and so do government sponsored budgets.

But there is an interesting new trend in Canada where collectors open their own galleries not to sell but just to display.  These are hands-on collectors who enjoy being their own curator and sharing their collections without the constraints of policy and budgets.  Ydessa Hendles  closed the doors of her Art Foundation on October 30th but others have already stepped forward to fill in the gaps.

Ann Rosen, the Trade Commissioner, made me smile when she answered one artist's question, which went something like, how to we spot the collectors?  She said, 'look for the power couples.'  A couple shopping together will make a decision.  The guy in the baggy pants and wrinkled shirt may be worth a lot more but he will need to consult his wife first.  I know exactly what she meant.  I used to work for a pair of brothers who owned an engineering firm that specialized in pulp and paper–Ben and Eli Cowan in Montreal.  Eli was a salt of the earth guy who didn't care what you thought of his attire.  He was a self-made millionaire who at one time was a lumberjack.  Unwitting visitors to the company would mistake him for the janitor.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

SOFA Chicago 2012 Dazzles

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the 2012 SOFA Chicago show with its stunning array of fine craft from across the States, Canada and Europe.  This is an event I have wanted to experience during my entire professional life as a craft curator and writer.  It was most illuminating to be able to attend this 19th annual SOFA during these difficult financial times to see how our American colleagues are dealing with their challenges.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover how people–artists, dealers and collectors–welcomed the opportunity to share their experience.  See my comments for Friday and Saturday for some of their remarks.

October 31st was a travel day
This is the first time I have flown Porter to the U.S.A.  A word of caution, neither the travel agent, nor I appreciated that this would not be a direct flight but although no plane changes were required it was a milk run, with stops in Ottawa and Halifax between St. John's and Toronto that would eat up six hours.  On the plus side, Porter uses the Billy Bishop airport in Toronto and the Midway airport in Chicago.  Midway is a smaller, quieter airport that is significantly closer to downtown Chicago than O'Hare and thus a cheaper taxi ride.

November 1, 2012
This day was spent in the workshops presented by the Craft Alliance and the very capable Bernie Burton.  Here is a break down of the 2012 participants:
A sensational bikini bottom by Jason Holley.  In my talk I examined the influence of his metal work on his ceramic work.

15 people participating in this mission; 10 craftspeople (2 from Newfoundland & Labrador; 2 from New Brunswick; 1 from Prince Edward Island; 5 from Nova Scotia; 5 observers from Atlantic Canada craft organizations.)  Everyone took advantage of being in the same hotel and would meet daily at breakfast to talk shop, network and share images.  I was able to make suggestions for potential contacts at galleries and publications in Canada and abroad and to share my own experience with the craftspeople.

This is the line-up of speakers and workshop topics.  In each I collected handouts and made my own detailed notes.  Below, I have included a short highlight from each workshop session:

Immigration Law, Anna Morzy Fragomen, Del Rey, Bersen & Lowey LLP
Anna Morzy strongly recommended that if your stay in the U.S.–during which you cannot process any sales of your work– was less than six months it is not worth applying for a visitor's visa.  It can cost up to $5,000 and require the support services of a lawyer.

Getting Your Work Across the Border, David Michalek, of AN Deringer Inc.  If your work comes in for exhibition purposes it must leave the country as such too –sales must be from Canada; "fine art" cannot be in multiples exceeding twelve and travels across the border duty-free.

Canadian Consulate, Ann Rosen, Ann cautioned against entering the U.S. market through the larger cities and recommended that smaller cities afforded less competition but still had many opportunities.  Look for cities with universities and a diversity of industry such as Wisconsin or Madison County.

Working with Galleries, Rick Snyderman, Snyderman-Works Gallery
Snyderman suggested that the art market in the U.S. had two years still to work out the financial consequences of the downturn and that during that time it would not be conducive, due to the extra cost and labour associated, to bring Canadian work across the border for sale.  Although he felt positive about Canadian art he said it had no profile in the U.S. and that if pressed he could not name any of the top makers.

Legalities in the Arts, William Rattner, Lawyers for the Creative Arts
Be the one who decides what happens to your art inventory, copyright and intellectual property (including e-passwords & info.) in the event of your death.  A collector may own your work but not the copyright; don’t assume your family wants your collected works or the job of dealing with it.

The Gallery Scene, Ann Nathan, Ann Nathan Gallery
Despite being in business for decades Ann maintained that things have not changed: "collectors still want great stuff and artists still want great notoriety".  She felt that artists' expectations were too high in terms of sales and has cut back on openings, advertising and instead focused on collaborative ventures with other galleries and now takes work from Spain and Portugal.
I hope that one day Jason Holley finds a way to adapt his sculpture for outdoor installation work.  As this photo demonstrates, his work makes a dramatic impact in nature.

Thursday evening was the SOFA Gala during which the excitement was palpable amongst the well-heeled crowd.  When I noticed that some of the dealers were buying from each other, one of them shared with me that this was a tradition for many of them and that they enjoyed acquiring a piece each year for their personal collections.

Friday, November 2nd and Saturday, November 3rd was spent touring the show of the work of over 800 artists.  I was struck by the presence of collectors' groups (for example I talked with one group from Arizona) and in the special exhibits that they mounted (see list below).  SOFA Chicago has always been associated with studio glass, and this year was no exception, but jewelry and wood also received special exhibit attention.  Several of the gallerists mentioned to me that jewelry was especially popular and was easy for them to travel with and display. There was unsubstantiated talk that the Sante Fe SOFA show that has folded (the NY show also folded after its rental costs tripled) would be replaced by a jewelry show.

The Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) was in full force and its focus was leading up to the 2013 Toronto joint conference of U.S. and Canadian jewellers and metalsmiths.  Some groups, like the Society for Art Glass, also held board meetings in adjacent rooms.  I spoke with the President of the glass group and she said her main challenge was securing younger members for the board, a reoccurring issue with several groups.  (Ironically, her husband was the volunteer sound tech for my lecture so we got to talk about the rising prices of fine craft making continued collecting a real challenge to those whose incomes have not risen accordingly over the decades.)

I also broke my time up on the floor of booths by attending lectures - for example Paul McClure's lecture- and presenting my own talk on Jason Holley.  Anne Meszko, the Director of Educational Programming at SOFA expressed special interest in my lecture saying that they got few proposals from critics and curators and asked that I stay in touch.  The audience of fair and lecture goers was augmented by busloads of students, ranging from highschool to post graduate students in Fine Art programs from neigbouring cities and states. 

Special Exhibits: Among Fellows: An exhibition of work by the 2012 college of fellows or masters of the American Craft Council; What is Beautiful? Changing Perspectives in Contemporary Wood Art- presented by the Collectors of Wood Art, Corning Museum of Glass; Eye of Mr. I: A Tribute presented by Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art; Gothic Jewelry: Sinister Pleasures - Metalsmith's 2012 curated exhibition presented by SNAG.  There were also glass and mosaic demonstrations.  Chubb Personal Insurance was the special corporate sponsor and Collectify a new software company specializing in inventory software for collectors was also active with a booth.  I purchased and collected catalogues to share with Craft Council members.

In total: 12 areas were set up for special exhibits and related booths including special-interest groups such as NCECA or publications like Ceramic Arts & Perception.

Speaking with long-time participants I learned that this was the smallest SOFA Chicago show ever with 64 galleries and 7 solo artist features participating.  However, by the end of Saturday many of the top galleries, such as Snyderman's, unofficially reported good sales and new galleries like L.A. Pai, which participated for the first time, received much attention.  Mid-range galleries said they at least broke even and felt the fair was a success.  Elena Lee galerie and Barbara Silverberg's Option Art were repeat participants with with busy booths. Barbara said that her sales at the SOFA were on average in excess of what she could sell in six months in Montreal. 

I was able to attend a special brunch event hosted by the James Renwick Alliance, an independent national nonprofit organization that celebrates the achievements of America's craft artists and fosters scholarship, education and public appreciation of craft art. The Alliance is the exclusive support group of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the showcase of contemporary American craft. In November, the Renwick is hosting a critical thinking conference about post-disciplinary craft, which also was the topic of my SOFA lecture.

At the Renwick brunch event, I was also able to make contact with support groups that mirror our Canadian non-profit groups.  Given our growing list of natural disasters and the lack of insurance carried by many craftspeople, I brought back Studio Protector an artist's guide to emergencies.  Their disaster readiness and response resource should be of special interest to those in our industry.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Plantation, St. John's most exciting new destination

The highlight of last week was, for me, giving a tour for a small group of "culture vultures" from across Canada – an annual event lead by novelist Kevin Major.  A "culture vulture" is my affectionate term for those of us who consume culture.  We regularly look forward and eagerly ingest the creative products of writers, musicians and visual artists of all stripes.  We are not the primary creators but we are an an essential part of the food-chain, or if that makes my artists friends wince, an essential part of the equation.  This is a point I'd like to emphasize: for every musician on stage or producing a CD, for every textile artist lovingly weaving, dyeing, etc dozens and dozens of listeners, viewers, collectors, and patrons are required to fulfill their function.  It's a cultural ecology with many crucial parts or people, creators and consumers alike.  Of course, there are the many, often woefully underpaid, workers who keep the wheels of the cultural industry turning as well.
You have to visit the scenic Plantation, regardless of the weather.

Now back to the tour, our destination was St. John's Plantation, an existing new incubator site located on Quidi Vidi.  And as I was told, "if you are not sure how to pronounce Quidi Vidi you can always call it the "gut" as it feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.

The easiest way to access the Plantation on line is through one of its partners:
Check the right hand side of the screen under Opportunities.

The Plantation is an ideal mix of stunning landscape location, vernacularly inspired contemporary architecture, strategic funding on the part of RBC and the province, and last but certainly not least seven studios inhabited by seven talented emerging artist-craftspeople or artisans.  The mix of media represented is excellent:  Graham Blair the printmaker, Heather Mills a glass and metal artist, two potters whose work is like night and day – Laura Higenell and Stephanie Smith– Jessica Butler a jeweller and textile artists: Cathia Finkel and Morgaine Parnham.  Each artisan showed us and allowed us to handle their particular brand of media wizardry.

Everyone I have talked to who has visited the Plantation, whether they are locals, visiting craftspeople, or "civilian" tourists have commented on the "buzz" of the place.  The site has a palpable frisson of creative energy that I have never experienced in art schools, subsidized craft studios such as Harbourfront in TO, or other incubator programs in Canada.  The Plantation is a very special phenomenon.
One of Graham Blair's iconic images.  All his prints are made by hand.

The tour was supposed to last about 45 minutes and we had to work and cutting it off at two hours.  I think we all had fun.  Beforehand I handed a selection of my catalogues from media that matched up with the special interest of the craftspeople.  For example, an Audrey Feltham catalogue for Graham Blair, a Michael Massie catalogue for potter Laura Higenell because of her interest in teapots, a Peter Powning catalogue for Heather Mills because like Peter, she works in both glass and metal.

For the visit I had reviewed by notes from previous visits but I also made a short list of questions that had gone unanswered for me.  For example, it had lingered in my mind "why were Graham's prints so incredibly affordable/inexpensive?"; "when Jessica was an historically accurate metalsmith as a Viking in Gros Morne, which gender was she dressed as?".  I recalled that one of the craftspeople had described herself as an "almost Mennonite" - what was that about?  This tour was a great excuse to dig for answers.  And it took little encouragement to get our little band of "culture vultures" to ask their own.

Stephanie's Smith's smoked fired vessels are a welcome addition to the St. John's clay scene.

Next stop?  SOFA Chicago here I come!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Nicola Hawkins on the cover of Studio magazine

The Collector by Nicola Hawkins, from her Junkosphere show.

The news is a little late but it is still good news.  The Fall/Winter 2012 issue of Studio magazine is making the rounds of subscribers and newsstands and our very own Nicola Hawkins' work graces the front cover.  This was a lovely surprise.  I knew to expect that my review of her Junkosphere would be included in the issue but it was great news to hear from the editor that her work was being considered for the cover and even better news to hold the issue in my hands and see her handsome Spud bin gleaming at me in all its sunshine colours.  Hers is a case of the most inspired of recycling and certainly at the forefront of a trend in both art and craft.

This is curious.  I have always maintained that politics changes art and not vice versa and I am happy to say maybe I just might be wrong.  It is likely that with so many artists and craftspeople using repurposed materials that we can keep the issue of environment and ecology in front of the public and make them regard their personal environment as a sphere where the individual does make a difference.

I had the pleasure of having home made pizza delivered to our house by Nicola and her husband Andy Perlis recently and a chance to chat post the publication of the review.  She was a very happy camper.  What made me smile is that she thanked me for calling her a seductress in the review.  Why do I think this is important?  Nicola Hawkins has a way of making of us think about ugly truths by using beauty to tempt us to linger… The natural reaction to ugly situations is just to want to walk away, to avoid pain, to avoid conflict.  But Hawkins' giant collages drew us in with their well designed come hither.
This is very strategic for a variety of reasons.  But I will elaborate on only one.
An example of Dabinett's portrayal of the undersea world and its citizens.

Diana Dabinett, whom I still think of a watercolour artist who occasionally paints on silk, taught me this.  I was in her studio and we were discussing her approach to the landscape and the glittering, multicolour undersea worlds.  I was concerned that people might dismiss her work as "pretty".  She patiently explained to me that she cared passionately about the natural environment both on land and off.  We discussed her options: paint the ugly stumps of clear cutting or paint the beauty of the forests and oceans.  Which would people fall in love with?  Which would people want to protect?  All of a sudden, I understood that beauty had a function quite apart from the visually pleasurable, the rules of harmony or composition.  It was subtle and it was political.  And I believe true.

An example of Lucky Rabbit's juicy bowls.

A final good news note:  The most recent brochure from the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery (happy 40th anniversary to MSVU art gallery) announces its recent acquisitions.  And they are, drum roll please, a spectacular bowl by Lucky Rabbit Pottery (Debra Kuzyk and Ray Mackie) from their Chinese series and three of Ray Mackie's mysterious and delightful glazed porcelain rays.  Yes, these were purchases and not donations.  (Acquisitions and collections would make a good topic for another blog!)

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Exploring Alexandra McCurdy's tribute to hardworking women and textile culture

Look for the issue.  Just hit the newstand.

What made you happy during the past seven days?  It is so easy to complain and just get poisoned in the process.  So, instead of fretting about things beyond my control, I will tell you about something that made me smile.

 I was really pleased that the Alexandra McCurdy retrospective that is about to open at the Beaverbrook Museum in New Brunswick got covered in the current issue of VANS or Visual Arts Nova Scotia.  The writer of the article is Matthieu Comeau and he brings a very interesting perspective to the show.  He was not familiar with her work in either clay or textiles, which also means he didn't bring any baggage of expectations when he walked into the retrospective.  Clay in Nova Scotia can be a very political arena.  So, it is great to get some fresh eyes and fresh opinions.  He carefully toured the show with Alex and also spoke with me briefly at the Halifax opening.  VANS refers to the article as a "profile" rather than a review, which think is appropriate.  It is more like an in depth interview than a critical assessment of the work.  However, he does a very good job of establishing a context for McCurdy's work in both clay and textiles and he shares his careful observations with the reader.  For example, he was drawn to my placement of McCurdy's plates with her silk-screened portraits of famous feminists on a blue piece of indigo fabric also done by McCurdy.  Here's my favourite part in the article:

This image is of the white stoneware plates by themselves.

"The pieces bear the faces of strong female artists: Judy Chicago, Barbara Hepworth, Beatrice Wood, Lucie Rie and Georgia O'Keefe.  It is clearly an homage to Judy's Chicago's The Dinner Party.  The simplicity of the work is quietly impressive, but I initially found the choice of women represented a bit puzzling–many of the women represented  produced work that seemed to me so vastly different from McCurdy's, especially those who aren't known primarily as potters.  But McCurdy reminded me that Barbara Hepworth's sculpture often incorporates tensile elements reminiscent of thread, and that Emily Carr did produce some ceramic work.  Her choice of women is determined, however, less by her affinity for their style than by her respect for their "dedication, determination and patience". 

Matthieu Comeau I think you really hit the nail on the head.  And you probably don't how well you described Alex herself for she surely is a woman who is also dedicated, determined and patient.  Personally, I am grateful that Alex allowed me to get a bit creative with my installation.  She was very open.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Arts Quests Discovers King's Point Pottery

I have often joked that the reason why there are so few craft writers is that most of us have died off (starvation) and that I am an endangered species.  The community of craft writers is relatively small and is something that has troubled me.  When I won the Critical Eye Award I offered to mentor at least one other writer serious in learning the trade.  I've been able to help out a few, for example, that was one reason why I took on the volunteer co-editing of the last issue of Cahiers métiers d'art.  It was to provide assistance to the writers involved and the publication, as it is a prime destination for serious craft writers, scholars and theorists.  But in this digital age of e-zines and website not all publications are printed on paper.
Speaking of prime destinations…I am happy to report that King's Point Pottery has earned yet another distinction (They were given a #1 destination distinction by Tourism earlier this summer).  Check out arts quest:

 Arts Quests entry about their on-site visit to King's Point Pottery is surprising in its depth and informed commentary on the ceramics, gallery and inspiration for both.  It combines an article, great photos and a jazzy little video of David sporting a goatee (David you are looking downright venerable).  Having been there myself I can testify that Arts Quest does a great job of giving you a feel for the place and Linda Yates and David Hayashida.

Here's an excerpt from Arts Quests discussion of the sea and its inspiration to potters Linda Yates and David Hayashida:

Linda and David’s passionate connection to the sea and it’s inhabitants are well represented in their work. For instance, Capelin, a small fish in the smelt family, is an essential part of the food chain for cod and other marine life. It has also been used for human consumption, pet food, bait and garden fertilizer. Over a ten-year span Linda and David worked on a cast and carved mold of these little guys and now represent these important fish in their collection in the form of plates, dishes, platters and bowls. The next two photos below show some of their capelin mold creations:
Instead of including a second shot of the capelin inspired work I wanted to include the shot of their new gallery for those you who haven't had the opportunity to visit in person.  Love that blue floor, it's an eye-popper and a great backdrop for the work by more than 150 artists that King's Point Pottery is now able to show and sell.

Now, for those you who still not have not voted for Jason Holley in the RBC, Gardiner Ceramic Emerging Artist award, it is not too late:

It's a People's Choice Award and you are people aren't you?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Vote for Jason Holley

Jason Holley's Shelter (2012) Stoneware, Cone 6, Raku Glaze, Newsprint Reduction, Acrylic

In case you haven't heard the exciting news, our very own Jason Holley has made the semi-finals in Toronto as part of the RBC Emerging Artist competition for the most popular ceramic artist in Canada!
Presented by the Gardiner Museum, the 2nd Annual RBC Emerging Artist People’s Choice Award recognizes the artist whose work receives the most votes from the participating public with a $10,000 cash prize. This year’s nominees are Jason Holley (Newfoundland), Sarah Lawless (British Columbia), Janet MacPherson (Ontario), Julie Moon (Ontario), and Brendan Tang (British Columbia). See the artists’ work on view at the Gardiner and cast your vote from September 4 – 30 at the exhibition or online at
By the way, it's only one vote per person.

NOTE: Voting will close September 30th although the artists' work will remain on view until October 7.
Jason faces some stiff competition from his fellow ceramic artists.  Sarah Lawless makes lovely organic forms and like Jason she also evokes place - in her case the beautiful B.C. coast- in her video.  Janet MacPherson, Julie Moon and Brendan Tang take a very different approach in their videos.  It more of what I call the "talking head" style and by that I mean it is where they just look at the camera and without any distracting visuals tell you about their piece in the competition.  All the works are currently on view at the Gardiner Museum, which is across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum in case you are in TO, or the big onion as I affectionately call it.  (NY being the big apple.)  I was struck that Brendan Tang was the only competitor with the balls to actually ask the viewers to vote for him.  Frankly, I was not surprised.  I said to myself, "no wonder you've been covered in Canadian Art already."  Frankly, Tang is lucky his work photographs so well.  I know when I've seen it "in the flesh" I was disappointed by how clunky it looked.  But that's just my not-so-humble opinion.
Check out Jason's video, on the Gardiner/RBC website and let me know which approach you prefer.
I was really intrigued by Jason's piece in the competition as it incorporates colour for what I believe is the first time.  His piece is a typical coil composition but this time the broken coils that are spilling out of its core are blood red.  My first reaction when I saw the image was, "this is darker than the new Batman movie".  It represents a new level of vulnerability, of rawness from Jason Holley and I'd like to applaud his bravery.
Our lad wearing one of his very own signature chainmaille motif T-shirts.

I have put a "Vote Jason Holley" tag line on my e-mail messages today with a link to the Gardiner's competition website.  I urge you to do the same.  Come on people, let's kick some butt and help our home-boy win that $10,000 prize.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

It's finally out!

  I am referring to the newest issue of Cahiers métiers d'art ::: Craft Journal Vol. 5 No 2 Printemps Spring 2012.  Now, I always look forward to getting my copy in the mail but this time I had a little more invested.  You see, Elaine Cheasley Paterson and I are the guest editors of this issue.  The theme is stated in the subtitle:  "Economy, community and self-expression–Craft and Social Development".

Here's the line up of the contents:
Volume 5 number 2
Volume 5 numéro 2

Printemps Spring 2012

Craft and Resilience: Northern Ontario's Emerging Cultural Identity
Métiers d’art et résilience : Identité culturelle émergente du nord de l’Ontario
Jude Ortiz

Hansen-Ross Pottery: Tourist Ware or Something Else?
Les poteries Hansen-Ross : plus qu’un produit touristique? 
Julia Krueger

Atelier Le Cep-Grés: A Case Study
Atelier Le Cep-Grés: une étude de cas
Mireille Perron

Craft Off: Performance, Competition and Anti-Social Crafting
Craft off : Performance, Compétition et Métiers d’art asociaux
Nicole Burisch

Here Comes the Knitting Men: Knitting and Masculinity in the early twenty-first century
Monsieur tricote : tricot et masculinité au XXIe siècle
Alla Myzelev

Comptes rendus ::: Reviews

Prairie Excellence
Mary Reid

(c) 2012 Cahiers métiers d’art : Craft Journal
ISSN 1718-9802

I am going to quote from our editors' foreword to give you a taste of the issue:

From the socialism of the Arts and Crafts Movement to the radical interventions proposed by "craftivists", the material, makers and processes of craft have been mobilized for social change.  Based on this insight a call for papers went out for the 2010 Universities Art Association of Canada conference, craft session.  The papers presented, selected, expanded and revised, discuss the communities created through craft –whether on a local, global or virtual level.

Craft production is embedded in living culture and heritage and is seen as expressing cultural identity.  For better or for worse, it gets pressed into social service because craft is perceived as accessible and useful.  Historically, this has taken the form of job and revenue creation through the sale of products based on traditional skills like weaving, rug hooking and knitting.  Communities created through craft in this way range in time and space from the Grenfell Mission in Labrador and the Home Arts Association in Great Britain to more recent initiatives like the Navajo Crownpoint Rug Auction.

Examples of craft and micro-economies persist today and are linked with contemporary lifestyle issues of creating, buying and consuming "local"…

And then we go on to comment how this is borne out in the particular papers.

Like Cmagazine I consider the Cahiers to be one of those publications that is under-read and I sincerely recommend it to anyone and everyone.  Happy reading!

Oh and before I forget here's a link to their website in case you want to check it out: