“20 Years Strong: Women Working in Clay” at Woman Made Gallery (WMG) in Chicago opens November 9, 2012, as the final show in our 20th anniversary year. It celebrates 20 years—and more—of 20 American women working in clay. The show demonstrates the varied and powerful contributions women ceramic artists make to the art world.
My vision has been to showcase the conceptual strength, beauty, and skill women demonstrate in their ceramic work—the contemporary vessel, the quotidian pot, sculpture, and figuration. It is a big goal and women’s contributions to the art world are wider than this show can accommodate. However, “Women Working in Clay” is a tribute to women who have forged a place for themselves and others in ceramics.
This vision can be explained by the extraordinary ways these artists have chosen to live their lives: 9 are studio ceramicists—they make their living from their work; 12 are university professors—continuing to explore their own work, and exhibit, as they influence younger artists. All have taught workshops in the best craft schools in the world, given papers at conferences on ceramics, written articles for books, and have therefore widened horizons for others. A number of them have generously trained apprentices who have assisted and learned from them in their studio practice for several years at a time (Granatelli, Polseno). One is the editor of The Studio Potter, a highly respected ceramic journal (Barringer); another owns TRAX Gallery, the respected ceramics gallery in San Francisco (Simon); another has been a visiting artist in Ile Ife, Nigeria, and worked with the female potters of the Volta Region of Ghana and in Ipetumodu, Nigeria. This artist/activist’s works rail against female cutting in that region (Owens-Hart); one was one of Bernard Leach’s last apprentices at his famed St. Ives Pottery and has sought to incorporate his beliefs and way of life in her practice today (Christiansen); another helped build the nationally prominent clay program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Kendall); four are discussed in the seminal publication Women Designers in the USA 1900 – 2000 (Shankin, Winokur, Owens-Hart, Sikora); the younger sculptors are raising families as they contribute to their communities and satisfy their need to work in clay—as did their teachers and mentors before them.
If a person’s commitment to a field is determined at some point in her life by SEEING how a life in her field is lived, then one of my curatorial criteria has been to feature women who are not only working artists but also mentors, teachers and influential examples to the young ceramic artists of the future. Many of these women were university students when their teachers told them to go home and have babies. They persevered, and the lives they have created are examples to younger women of what is possible if they choose to be ceramic artists.
These women are not emerging artists. They are mature artists whose works are represented in national and international collections—The Smithsonian, The Huntington Museum of Art, The John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection, The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC, to name a few, and they have had solo museum shows as well. As individual artists they have contributed to the wider narrative and conversations about ceramics, vessels, sculpture–and these objects’ places in our lives. These women have influenced many, and continue to be an example to women within and outside the arts community.
Curated by Linda Hillman