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Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 3

Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 3

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Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 3

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298 pages
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Sep 1, 2007


This third and final volume in the Craft Perception and Practice series features 21 essays and critical commentaries by acclaimed Canadian practitioners, educators and curators, demonstrating the range of critical thought about craft as presented in symposiums, exhibition catalogues and art journals. Prominent academics and theorists provide insight into the relationship between skill, technology, history and personal expression. The texts in this volume discuss craft in terms of political and social activism, gender theory, semiotics and aesthetics analyzing shifting boundaries between craft, fine art and design. Volume III of Craft Perception and Practice substantiates academic advancement of craft curricula and provides an authoritative springboard for debate and discussion among craft practitioners, educators, curators and collectors.Over 40 full-colour photographs of works in craft media including fibre, glass, ceramics, metal, wood and "new materials" accompany the essays.
Sep 1, 2007

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Craft Perception and Practice - Ronsdale Press


Perception and Practice

Volume Three

Craft Perception and Practice

a Canadian discourse

Volume Three

Sandra Alfoldy

Glenn Allison

Mackenzie Frère

Murray Gibson

Amy Gogarty

Nïsse Gustafson

Paula Gustafson

Emanuel Jannasch

Deborah Koenker

Liz Magor

Paul Mathieu

Arlene Oak

Mireille Perron

Kirsty Robertson

Ruth Scheuing

Shannon Stratton

Meg Walker

Edited by Paula Gustafson, Nïsse Gustafson & Amy Gogarty

Copyright © 2007 by Nïsse Gustafson and Amy Gogarty

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 v6s 1G7


Co-published by

Artichoke Publishing

301 – 969 West 10 Avenue

Vancouver BC Canada V5Z 1L9


Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Craft perception and practice : a Canadian discourse/

edited by Paula Gustafson.

Vol. 3 edited by Paula Gustafson, Nïsse Gustafson and Amy Gogarty.

Co-published by: Artichoke Publishing.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-921870-94-9 (V.1). — ISBN 1-55380-026-5 (V.2). — ISBN 978-1-55380-052-1 (V.3)

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

3. Art, Canadian — 20th century. I. Gustafson, Paula, 1941–2006.

II. Gustafson, Nïsse, 1970–. III. Gogarty, Amy, 1953–.

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

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

Cover image: Through the Glass, Auzzie roll-up using Bullseye sheet glass, 30 × 17 × 12.5 cm,

Lisa Samphire, 2006. Photo: Lisa Samphire.

Ronsdale Press wishes to thank the following for their support of its publishing program: 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. 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 800, Toronto,

Ontario, Canada M5E 1E5.

Printed and bound in China.


The essays selected for this third volume are written by some of Canada’s foremost artists, curators, writers and educators. The authors explore the diversity of contemporary craft, linking traditional methods to modern practice, with a look to the future of craft using new materials and technologies. Many of the essays and commentaries were printed previously in magazines and exhibition catalogues, with two of the essays first published on websites and four appearing in print here for the first time. Glass, ceramics, textiles, metals and unconventional materials are represented, as might be expected, given their prominence in academic curricula and other discursive arenas. New to the series and of note are discussions about craft’s potential as a tool of social activism and an essay examining an innovative approach to working with wood.


The editors are indebted to all of the authors and artists who contributed their articles, essays and images to this third volume.

Lisa Samphire: Bending the Bullseye, Stardale: A Success Story, "Andrew Goss: Heavy Duty," "Louise Perrone’s Museum," "immaterial beauty and Rules of grammar or childish babble?: interpreting ornament and meaning in the context of Modernity (revised from an earlier version of the essay entitled Ornament and Language") are all published with permission from Artichoke: Writings about the Visual Arts.

Flowers and Leaves: Constructing Nature is published with permission from The Capilano Review.

"Ancient Affections: Paul Mathieu’s Making China in China" and Thinking Textile are published with permission from the Richmond Art Gallery.

How to Knit an Academic Paper is published with permission from Public: Art, Culture, Ideas.

Getting Things Done: On Needlecraft & Free Time is published with permission from the A + D Gallery, Columbia College, Chicago, IL.

The Art of Camouflage, A Female Touch: Exploring tactility in the work of Janice Wright Cheney, Barb Hunt and Sarah Maloney is published with permission from the Stride Gallery, Calgary.

"Sara Washbush: The Parting Glass" is published with permission from Poplar ArtCraft.

John Macnab: Between Centres is published with permission from Woodwork magazine (original title: Between Centers: John Macnab).

"Sarah Link’s Drift" is published with permission from Fusion magazine.

Christina Mayr: Focus on the Vessel is published with permission from the Glass Gazette (now called Contemporary Canadian Glass), a publication of the Glass Art Association of Canada.

Craft and the Semiotics of Pattern: A Feminist Perspective is a previously unpublished essay by Sandra Alfoldy.

Vancouver Sculpture: Craft Concepts and But is it (ceramic) Art? Ceramics and the ‘Problem’ with Jean-Pierre Larocque’s Exhibition at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art are previously unpublished essays by Paul Mathieu.

How Long is a Piece of String? is a previously unpublished essay by Murray Gibson.




Craft and the Semiotics of Pattern: A Feminist Perspective


Lisa Samphire: Bending the Bullseye


Ancient Affections: Paul Mathieu’s Making China in China


Flowers and Leaves: Constructing Nature



Getting Things Done: On Needlecraft & Free Time


The Art of Camouflage, A Female Touch: Exploring tactility in the work of Janice Wright Cheney, Barb Hunt and Sarah Maloney


Stardale: A Success Story


Thinking Textile


How to Knit an Academic Paper



Rules of grammar or childish babble?: interpreting ornament and meaning in the context of Modernity


immaterial beauty


But is it (ceramic) Art? Ceramics and the Problem with Jean-Pierre Larocque’s Exhibition at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art



Andrew Goss: Heavy Duty


Louise Perrone’s Museum


Sara Washbush: The Parting Glass


Vancouver Sculpture: Craft Concepts


John Macnab: Between Centres



Sarah Link’s Drift


Christina Mayr: Focus on the Vessel


How Long is a Piece of String?



In Memoriam: Paula Gustafson




Escarlata (letting blood), detail, 2006

Cochineal-dyed silk, felted wool, silk yarn, iron rods

Two panels, each 300 × 100 cm

Janice Wright Cheney

Photo: Roger Smith


In July 2006 news of the too-early passing of Paula Gustafson saddened many, as her tireless championing of visual arts and craft in Canada made her an important figure across the country. At the time of her death, she was beginning to organize the final volume of her projected three-volume series, Craft Perception and Practice. At this point, we, Nïsse Gustafson and Amy Gogarty, stepped in to complete the editing of this anthology. Our task was made easier by the support and encouragement of friends and colleagues in craft and by the Canada Council, who graciously permitted us to take up the grant Paula had so recently received to complete this volume. For both of us, it has been a privilege and a pleasure to engage with the objects, concepts and creativity of those who work with and write about craft. The fruits of this collaboration are presented here in the form of twenty essays that explore a variety of forms, concepts, media and methods of working with contemporary craft.

Because there are many ways to approach these essays, we have made a special effort to select essays that invite ongoing conversations. As with any conversation, speakers bring a variety of opinions, and in this case, they do not shrink from expressing their minds. Most, if not all, of our authors are themselves artists who have explored the pleasures and frustrations of working with materials and shaping ideas into form; their experiences enhance their insight into the work they discuss. As is the case with so much in our world today, definitions of contemporary craft are in flux. Building on the original intent of this series, this volume extends its radar to catch many of the new voices in craft in an attempt to chart — if not the future — at least as accurate a picture as possible of the energy, diversity and sheer intellectual challenge posed by those who animate the field today.

As a means to establish order, we organized our essays into five interrelated sections. Section titles collecting groups of essays are not prescriptive; rather they reflect consistencies and preoccupations intrinsic to the group, and they provide a basis for stimulating discussion. The essays might be read in any order, and readers might well perceive different synergies from those reflected in our divisions. Nonetheless, the sections make an excellent starting place.

We introduce the volume with Pattern and Perception, reflecting a growing interest in pattern in a variety of fields including anthropology, neurobiology and mathematics in addition to the decorative arts. In Craft and the Semiotics of Pattern: A Feminist Perspective, Sandra Alfoldy analyzes meanings embedded in the patterns of everyday objects such as the Burberry plaid scarf presented to her young son, noting relationships among gender, class and ethnicity that often govern the fluctuating meanings inherent in such social signs. From earliest times, weaving has been associated with female labour; what is new and exciting here is the degree to which Alfoldy establishes that labour as cognitive and symbolic, with links to beauty, complexity and mathematical thought. Meg Walker, in Bending the Bullseye: Lisa Samphire, discusses ways in which this important glass artist achieves complex patterns in her multi-coloured vases through modifying traditional Venetian murrini techniques. By using paler colours, which allow light to pass through, and drawing the stacks of fused glass into canes, she creates new and dynamic expressions of complexity, order and beauty. Liz Magor explores an entirely different approach to pattern and cultural exchange through her analysis of Paul Mathieu’s exhibition Making China in China. Mathieu took ceramic forms based on canonical works of modern art to Jingdezhen, China, where imperial porcelain has been produced on an industrial scale for over one thousand years. Travelling from workshop to workshop, he asked artisans to paint specific areas on his forms with patterns of their choice. With this work, Mathieu confounds nearly every category or norm we have for assessing skill, craftsmanship, authenticity and authorship. Yet this is the point. Magor comments: as they [the objects] slip from one category to another, they leave a trace, an afterimage of our expectation of things. Concluding this section, Ruth Scheuing discusses her intricate woven images of women and nature, which are constructed with the aid of a computerized Jacquard loom. Rejecting romantic and nostalgic associations, Scheuing argues that textiles have always been at the forefront of technological change. That her hand-woven textiles combine ancient hand-loom methods with twenty-first century digital technology imparts a new twist to her use of nature-based imagery.

Ideas into Actions collects five essays that explore new frontiers for craft as an ethical and socially based practice. Shannon Stratton, in Getting Things Done: On Needlecraft & Free Time, explores relational aesthetics and slow activism, providing a number of examples in which the practice of handcraft deliberately rejects contemporary culture’s obsession with consumption and speed. Public knitting is particularly singled out for its power to redirect energy, action and labour away from sanctioned activities — paid work, capitalist productivity or passive assent — and towards dissent. Mireille Perron similarly focuses on issues of time, labour and production, tracing the specific history of the senses as exemplified in the work of three artists. The Art of Camouflage, A Female Touch: Exploring tactility in the work of Janice Wright Cheney, Barb Hunt and Sarah Maloney examines such intriguing artworks as a replica eighteenth-century corset delicately embroidered with a mass of fleas, commentaries on war effected through quilts constructed from cast-off army fatigues and knitted versions of internal body parts, such as the circulatory system, the spinal column or the brain.

Paula Gustafson’s essay Stardale: A Success Story provides a concrete example of craft in the service of community-development and self-empowerment. While detailing the collective efforts of a group of Cree women near Melfort, Saskatchewan, to achieve economic security and self-empowerment, the essay recounts ways in which contemporary craft combines traditional skills and knowledge with innovative approaches to making and self-expression. Deborah Koenker’s essay accompanied an exhibition she curated of emerging and mid-career artists working in textiles. Thinking Textile examines a diverse collection of artists whose work includes memorials to Vancouver’s missing Downtown Eastside women, banners recounting difficult periods in the history of Chinese immigration to Canada, traditional Gwa’gwa’da’ka’ button blankets that sport contemporary super-hero imagery or prostheses covered with beautiful cross-stitched designs, which belie common stereotypes of disability. As Koenker’s essay ably demonstrates, contemporary textile artists armed with expert knowledge and practical skills venture fearlessly into conceptual and political territories to explore personal identity and social concerns. Emphasis on the political and the social concludes this section with Kirsty Robertson’s trenchant How to Knit an Academic Paper. Using the metaphor of the spider, Robertson weaves biotechnology, national security, informatics, craft practice and global justice movements together into an intriguing web. In the process, she examines connections between the rhetorics of activism and the information economy, seeking to create new possibilities for activists in the hyper-productive and disembodied spheres of knowledge, information and culture production.

With the section Laying Foundations, we move into an exploration of theoretical and ontological issues underlying the practice of craft. Arlene Oak’s Rules of grammar or childish babble?: interpreting ornament and meaning in the context of Modernity examines parallels between nineteenth-century critiques of ornament and the developing field of linguistics, both of which were markedly shaped by Europe’s colonial ventures. Taking issue with those who argue that Modernism banished ornament, she argues that ornament was repositioned to the architectural interior, where interactions occur with the things we enjoy using in our everyday lives. Mackenzie Frère also focuses on interiors and the importance of tactile, sensual experience in everyday life. His essay "immaterial beauty discusses his practice of weaving and dyeing cloth using natural materials. Drawing on the poetry of Cecilia Vicuna and the philosophies of Gaston Bachelard and Hannah Arendt, Frère creates a compelling and poetic meditation on the spiritual and emotional resonance of cloth. Paul Mathieu’s But is it (ceramic) Art? Ceramics and the ‘Problem’ with Jean-Pierre Larocque’s Exhibition at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art focuses on those characteristics that distinguish ceramic from other forms of sculpture. With his usual penetrating analysis, Mathieu declares that When form and surface, while remaining distinct, come together and define space in specific ways with an object made of clay … we are in the presence of Ceramics (the art form)." The occasion for raising these issues was the re-opening of the Gardiner, a major museum of ceramics, and Mathieu’s concern that even benign indifference on the part of official institutions towards what is unique to ceramics contributes dangerously to the marginalization of this significant contemporary art form.

Our fourth section, Concepts in Form, focuses on formal elements of artworks including material, facture, structure and the complex ways in which form integrates with concept to create valid expression. Nïsse Gustafson’s "Andrew Goss: Heavy Duty" explores paradoxes inherent in this artist’s use of concrete, at once a common, everyday material, which is nonetheless remarkable in its qualities, in combination with rare and valuable materials such as diamonds. Her eloquent essay questions the nature of beauty and how we assign value to materials and concepts. She asserts that beauty is a combination of qualities that please the intellect or our moral sense, and concludes that Goss’s choice of this inappropriate material challenges us to re-examine our concepts of worth and value. The use of unusual materials is also taken up by Amy Gogarty in her discussion of "Louise Perrone’s Museum." Perrone, whose training is in sculpture, jewellery and metals, blurs conventional distinctions between craft and fine art in the exhibition of her work: she incorporates video surveillance and performance into her simulacrum of museum display. In the process, she challenges gender stereotypes and assumptions about class and status while continuing to give precedence to the traditional skills and values of her age-old craft. Mackenzie Frère analyzes the use of storytelling and personal narrative in design with "Sara Washbush: The Parting Glass." Washbush incorporates lyrics from an anonymous Irish folk ballad into her exhibition of a series of metal cups; the cups, like the lyrics, trace the progress of love from easy friendship through romantic love to the inevitable parting occasioned by death. Using a variety of materials, surface patination and design, the artist expresses deep emotional experiences within the context of embodied form. In Vancouver Sculpture: Craft Concepts, Paul Mathieu frames associations between core craft concepts, such as containment, and contemporary sculptural practices as exemplified in the work of Vancouver artists Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen, Liz Magor and others. Mathieu asserts that craft practice offers unique conceptual and material resources to artists addressing the failure of imagination that resulted from a fixation with dematerialization and mediation. He concludes that these artists participate in a collective desire to reinvigorate art with tactile, sensory and "real experiences from which art has so removed itself

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