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Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 2

Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 2

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Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 2

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339 pages
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Sep 1, 2005


The series of Craft Perception and Practice volumes gives recognition to the exciting new developments in contemporary craft practice and scholarship. This second volume brings together 22 essays and critical commentaries by 19 independent critics and curators, professional artists, art historians, and studio art instructors. Illustrated with 40 colour photographs of works by some of Canadas finest craft artists, the texts represent the depth and range of critical thought about Canadian craft presented at symposiums and in exhibition catalogues and arts journals. Exploring the diversity of current craft practice and theory, as well as crafts intrinsic connections between traditional and contemporary art, these multidisciplinary texts discuss the conceptual, social and cultural significance of work in craft media. The authors engage linguistic, dystopian, mimetic and cinematic theories, as well as the aspects of sensual and tacit knowledge, to create a nuanced discourse about making and appreciating craft-based sculptural and functional objects. This seminal series of books asserts craft's rightful place as a vital form of artistic expression. Craft Perception and Practice substantiates academic advancement of craft curricula and provides an authoritative springboard for debate and discussion among craft practitioners, curators and collectors."Essential reading for students of craft, craft history, craft theory, and critical thinking in Canadian universities and colleges and a welcome addition to a field that has only recently become the focus of serious academic interest." Jennifer Salahub, Alberta College of Art and Design
Sep 1, 2005

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Craft Perception and Practice - Ronsdale Press

CRAFT Perception and Practice

Volume Two

CRAFT Perception and Practice

a Canadian discourse

Volume Two

Sandra Alfoldy

Glenn Allison

Anne Barros

Greg Beatty

Brenda Barry Byrne

Ruth Chambers

Sandra Flood

Amy Gogarty

Andrew Goss

Paula Gustafson

Gloria Hickey

Penelope Kokkinos

Anna-Marie Larsen

Jeannie Mah

Paul Mathieu

Bettina Matzkuhn

Alexandra McCurdy

Sheila Robertson

Susan Surette

edited by Paula Gustafson

Ronsdale Press

Copyright © 2005 by Paula Gustafson

All essayists, artists, and photographers to be identified as the author of their work.

Published by

Ronsdale Press

3350 West 21 Avenue

Vancouver BC Canada V6S1G7


Co-published by

Artichoke Publishing

208-901 Jervis Street

Vancouver BC Canada V6E 2B6


Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Craft perception and practice: a Canadian discourse / edited by Paula Gustafson

Co-published by Artichoke Publishing

includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-921870-94-9 (v.1). — ISBN 1-55380-026-5 (v.2)

1. Art, Canadian—Themes, motives. 2. Art criticism—Canada.

3. Art, Canadian—20th century. I. Gustafson, Paula, 1941-

NK841.C735 2002      709’.71’0904      C2001-911445-1

Designed by Michael Dymund of Silent Queue Design and by Paula Gustafson

Cover image: Out of the Earth, earthenware chalice, lithium compound glaze, mounted in Vancouver Island sandstone, 13 inches (33 cm) high, Mary Fox, 2002.

Ronsdale Press wishes to thank the Canada Council for the Arts and its Art Book program, the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP), and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for their support of its publishing program. Artichoke Publishing gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the Jean A. Chalmers Fund for the Crafts and the Canada Council for the Arts Writing and Publishing program.

All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any request for photocopying, recording, taping or reproducing in information storage and retrieval systems of any part of this book shall be directed in writing to the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency ACCESS COPYRIGHT, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5E 1E5.

Printed and bound in China.


The essays and commentaries in this second volume of Craft Perception and Practice were selected for their relevance to the issues and concerns engaging Canadian craft practitioners during the past several years. Many of the texts have been published previously in exhibition catalogues and magazines; however, six are published here for the first time. As in the first book in this series, ceramics and textiles are well represented, reflecting the continuing high level of critical thinking in those fields. In addition, this volume brings forward insights into contemporary work in metal, as well as illuminating discussions about the histories, definitions, and theories of craft.

This book and the preceding volume one in the Craft Perception and Practice series have opened the door to cataloguing books about contemporary craft within the art sections of libraries. Craft books are no longer automatically relegated to the Handicrafts subject heading. With Craft Perception and Practice, critical discourse about sculptural objects and functional art — the expressions of professional fine craft artists — has achieved its rightful place within the mainstream of visual art.


The editor is indebted to all the authors and artists who suggested or sent articles and essays for this second volume. Their commitment to high quality discourse is reflected in the texts selected.

Mapping Paradise and Giardino Segreto are published with permission of the Estevan Art Gallery and Museum.

Joanne Copp: Gilded Vessels, Sook He Park: Humility, Constructing a Craft History, Defining Professional Craft, and Toward a Unified Theory of Crafts: The Reconciliation of Differences are published with permission of Artichoke: Writings about the Visual Arts.

Rocksbreath II is published with permission of the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery.

Kevin Conlin: Elapse is published with permission of the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

Jeannie Mah: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is published with permission of the Dunlop Art Gallery.

Boys With Needles is published with permission of the Textile Museum of Canada and Museum London.

Metal: 5 Views is published with permission of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fork Lifting is published with permission of Metalsmith, a publication of the Society of North American Goldsmiths.

Susan Andrews Grace: Cove(r)n and For Home and Country are published with permission of The Craft Factor.


Sandra Alfoldy, PhD, teaches the history of craft at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She is the author of Crafting Identity: The Development of Professional Craft in Canada, McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Glenn Allison is a former director of the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery.

Anne Barros is the author of Ornament and Object: Canadian Jewellery and Metal Art 1946–1996, The Boston Mills Press, 1997. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Greg Beatty is an arts and culture critic in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Brenda Barry Byrne is the director/curator of the Art Gallery of Prince Albert in Saskatchewan.

Ruth Chambers is Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Regina.

Sandra Flood, PhD, is the author of Canadian Craft and Museum Practice 1900–1950, published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2001. She lives in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

Amy Gogarty is an artist and writer who teaches in Liberal Studies at the Alberta College of Art and Design.

Andrew Goss operates a design studio with his wife Sandra Noble Goss in Owen Sound, Ontario.

Paula Gustafson is editor of Artichoke: Writings about the Visual Arts.

Gloria Hickey is a curator and visual arts critic. She lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Penelope Kokkinos teaches ceramics at the Ottawa School of Art, Ottawa, Ontario.

Anna-Marie Larsen is a curator and critical writer. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

Jeannie Mah is an artist in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Paul Mathieu teaches ceramics at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. He is the author of Sexpots: Eroticism in Ceramics, Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Bettina Matzkuhn is a Vancouver-area fibre artist and a regular contributor to Artichoke: Writings about the Visual Arts.

Alexandra McCurdy is an artist and independent curator in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sheila Robertson is a writer and editor. She lives near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Susan Surette is a ceramic artist with Studio Surette in Brigham, Quebec.




Mapping Paradise


Giardino Segreto




Painterly Ceramics


Landscape as Language in Canadian Ceramics: A Reading of a National Collection



Joanne Copp: Gilded Vessels


The Aesthetics of Skill


Rocksbreath II


Joni Moriyama: Echo


Kevin Conlin: Elapse



Jeannie Mah: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her


Boys with Needles


Sook He Park: Humility


Metal: 5 Views



Fork Lifting


Susan Andrews Grace: Cove(r)n


For Home and Country


Constructing a Craft History


Defining Professional Craft



Report from the Interior


Pot: As Movable Memory


Toward a Unified Theory of Crafts: The Reconciliation of Differences




Fork with Plumes, 2002

sterling silver, heat treated

8 inches long

Anne Barros

Photo: Anne Barros


In the three years since Craft Perception and Practice was launched, I’ve received an abundance of reader comments reflecting on and responding to the selection of texts in volume one. It’s been gratifying to learn that this series is welcomed by artists, art collectors, and librarians, and is being integrated into studio arts curricula in colleges and universities. While reader comments have been generally favourable, a few have raised questions about the usefulness of book compilations which present the entire range of craft practice as a single entity. In particular, these critics note that most craft artists tend to focus on their specific métier to the exclusion of others, and they suggest that studio practice today has diversified to the point where craft is now a collection of special interests rather than a single general approach.

While selecting the essays and commentaries about craft work and craft ideas for this volume, I was conscious of this criticism about anthologies vis-à-vis the intention of the Craft Perception and Practice series, which is to present a substantial cross-section of contemporary thought about Canadian craft practices and teachings. I’m aware, for instance, that tapestry artists are not interested in formulae for ceramic glazes, and that there is more than sufficient technical and intellectual challenge in each craft specialty to fully engage any individual for a lifetime. I also know that, on a practical level, craft artists must specialize if they want to achieve the skills and knowledge that will allow them to make the objects they conceive.

At the same time, having worked in most craft media, I believe there is an undeniable correlation between all craft processes that integrate the activity of mind and hands. To repeat Doris Shadbolt’s oft-quoted statement, Craft has to do with the body and the body’s relationship to the material world, and with the complex mind-body relationship that is vital to human wholeness.¹ Unlike new media art which relies on images and light, craft is rooted in materialness, in the substances of production and the physicality of the maker.

Craft production today, of course, is not solely about the properties of clay or fibre or some other material. Was it ever? With perhaps the exception of strictly utilitarian wares, craft was and is about transforming, about instilling meaning and giving value. When we speak of materializing an idea, we are using a metaphor ingrained in human experience. Expression of abstract thought in concrete form — of spirit made flesh — demonstrates that craft is both activity and knowledge. The activity of craft needs no explanation. Craft knowledge is the conundrum.

Almost nothing that is important about a craft can be put into words and propositions, Peter Dormer wrote in The Culture of Craft.² Craft and theory are oil and water. Using examples from other fields of endeavour — classical dance, surgery, piloting an airplane, all of which must be learned experientially — Dormer asserted that craft knowledge is tested not through language but through practice.³ Undaunted, craft scholars continue to struggle to articulate a theory of craft. Some insist craft deserves to be considered within the canons of fine art, others situate craft in a ghetto between art and design. One of the consequences is a half-dozen or more re-brandings of craft, including contemporary applied art and the awkward SOFA acronym, sculpture-objects-fine art. The American Craft Museum has even gone so far as to rename itself the Museum of Arts and Design, creating yet another disconcerting acronym, MAD.

Paul Mathieu has made a concerted attempt to refute Dormer’s assertions in his essay Toward a Unified Theory of Crafts. After discussing the various polarities of art and craft, and probing the liturgy of postmodernism, Mathieu proposes a theory of craft based on the concept of containment. When it was first published in Artichoke, Mathieu’s essay generated both argument and agreement. Including it in this volume continues and broadens an important discussion. Other texts I have selected would serve as equally cogent examples of writings which, because they were originally published in conjunction with an exhibition or in a limited-distribution publication, might remain unconsidered outside of their immediate readership. Compilations such as this series of books allow readers not only to discover ideas and practices which might otherwise have a brief shelf life, but to consider them alongside other areas of inquiry.

As in volume one, I’ve gathered the texts into loosely defined sections. Readers are free to ignore the thematic groupings and make their own connections: to compare the poetic assertions of Andrew Goss with Anne Barros’s investigation into the history of forks, or Jeannie Mah’s commentary on the aesthetic development of her own work and that of her colleagues with Amy Gogarty’s assessment of Jeannie Mah’s "ouvrez les guillemets …" exhibition. In the first instance, personal accounts — one introspective, the other perspectival — offer insights into the minds of the makers. In the second, two accomplished artists exercise their rapier intellects on cinema, ceramics, and theory.

Since the 1970s, the majority of professional makers of craft objects in Canada and throughout the westernized world have had academic educations and been exposed to post-modernist theory. They can fiddle the tunes of irony, accumulation, and appropriation with as much vigour as video photographers and installation artists. If they choose to follow a traditionalist approach, mastering their craft and demonstrating commitment to its history, it does not necessarily follow that they are unaware of art’s trends or developments. Others, savouring the competition of the contemporary art arena, are pushing craft into new and unexpected territories. Critical response engages in a parallel adventure: one foot on the stabilizing path of tradition, the other on the freeway of innovation and change.

Ideally, the role of the critic is as hyper-viewer: enlightened, sensitive, aware of the rich history of craft and its inseparable matrix of materials, methods, and concepts. Here, illumination comes in the form of critical writings by Anna-Marie Larsen, Greg Beatty, Sheila Robertson, and an unabashedly sensual review in which Bettina Matzkuhn longs to hold one of Joanne Copp’s gilded vessels in her lap, bask in its glow and slide my hands around it. I want the vessel to come home with me, to have and to hold, to love, honour, and shack up together.

Heretical writings like this, which extol the bawdy pleasure of holding an object, have no place in today’s art discourse (which, surprisingly, sees no shame in employing nostalgia or other emotional references to reinforce its agenda). Is the sensual response shameful because current visual art practice dismisses skills and materials as inconsequential? Or simply that most of our viewing of art is through reproduced or electronic images, not by holding and feeling?

To craft, to make something, is to act intelligently. To craft implies knowing how to do something very well. The skill required to make an object is often mistakenly confused with manual dexterity, as if thinking was not embedded in the maker’s skill or knowledge of materials. Even when the principles and techniques have been learned empirically, an intelligence of feeling is evidenced in the object and readily apparent to the touch of the viewer.

Paula Gustafson

August 2005


1. Doris Shadbolt, lecture transcript, Quo Vadis 20th Century Craft conference, Crafts Association of British Columbia, November 1991.

2. Peter Dormer, The Language and Practical Philosophy of Craft, in The Culture of Craft, ed. Peter Dormer, Manchester University Press, 1997, p. 225.

3. Ibid., p. 226.

Landscape of Memory


Giardino Segreto (installation detail), 2002


no dimensions given

Ruth Chambers

Photo: Ruth Chambers

This text was published in the catalogue accompanying the Giardino Segreto exhibition, February 25 to April 28, 2002, organized by the Estevan Art Gallery and Museum, Estevan, Saskatchewan.


by Brenda Barry Byrne

Giardino Segreto is inspired by and attempts to collapse together three realms of human endeavor: the contemporary and historical medical body, historical garden design and ornamentation, and utopian and dystopian literature.¹

Giardino Segreto is a site-specific installation by Regina artist Ruth Chambers that questions the notions of the imagined, the desired, beauty, vitality, and the unknown. Upon entering the darkened (shaded) gallery, we are delivered/exiled to Giardino Segreto, Chambers’s garden secret or secret garden. Vessels appear to float on the walls, glowing from within, leaking messages from their porcelain skin — Pairidaeza, Avalon, desire, Faeroisland, supposed, contingent.…

Pairidaeza  (the Persian word for paradise) also translates as enclosed pleasure gardens, and refers to the supreme bliss of Eden or the reward of the faithful. Avalon is the Celtic paradise across the western sea, where gods and heroes were sustained on the apples of immortality. Faeroisland means Fairyland. The Norse goddess Idun provided apples of immortality to Aesir, and Hera protected her apple garden in the Hesperides far to the west.

Overhead, imbedded in the ceiling, is a back-lit floral tapestry of patterns and leaves, blanketing the garden in a soft (surgical) green glow. The viewer enters the space through paradise, a historical cartographic drawing (attempting to map the location of paradise projected onto the double door). Beneath the map, we can see references to flora and brain viscera.

Geometry is a significant form-giver in paradise gardens, as are certain numbers and numerical associations. Four is saturated with symbolic meanings, relating pleasure gardens with bodies/vessels and the roles they play within utopian and dystopian theory.

Muhammed, the founder and prophet of Islam, told his followers that the righteous would be rewarded after death by eternal life in a paradise garden watered by four rivers. Persian ceramics dating back 6,000 years show the world divided into four sections, with a pool or spring of life at the centre. As in Muhammed’s description of paradise being a place of plenteous shade, Giardino Segreto also offers plenteous

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