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A Feminist Lens on Six Female Ceramists in Regina
by Julia Krueger
Regina Clay: Worlds in the Making examines the works of ceramists who were practicing in Regina during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Almost half of the group that is selected for this exhibition is comprised of women: Marilyn Levine, Ann James, Beth Hone, Margaret Keelan, Maija Peeples-Bright and Lorraine Malach. They practiced ceramics in private studios in Regina and at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus with men who were at times their teachers, students and peers. It is tempting to set up a binary of "the men versus the women" or to imagine all of these women working with and understanding one another, just because they are women. However, neither is the case. Although these women shared a common medium and location, their approaches and practices varied widely. Some were politically active in their work and private lives, while others preferred to remain apolitical. This difference poses a dilemma. One does not want to ghettoize a group or make simplistic assumptions based on overt similarities. At the same time, it is a valuable exercise to divide the larger group into smaller ones to deepen our understanding of the entire group of Regina ceramicists. By isolating the women ceramists in this exhibition and applying a theoretical lens to their work, a new understanding may be reached, despite the variety of approaches represented in their work.
Applying a theoretical lens can bring into focus relevant discourses, political positions, histories and the viewer's own understanding of a work. For example, one could apply a "feminist lens" to examine the artwork's dialogue with the feminist art movement. This lens can be applied even if the maker does not claim to be a feminist. The lens is not intended to define whether or not the maker is a "feminist," but rather it is utilized to reveal how feminist art practices become an important part of the work. Another example is the "historical lens" which focuses on the specific history of ceramics that is often overlooked by general art history surveys.
The application of these lenses is important because one must understand that no maker creates his or her works within a vacuum. There are numerous influences for a maker, and these include the political atmosphere within which art is created. The six women included in the exhibition are all represented by works that date from the late 1960s and early 1970s. This period was a critical time for feminist art and ceramics. Following other social movements in the United States, such as the civil rights movement and the student liberation movement, the late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed increasing momentum in the feminist movement. Garth Clark's American Ceramics: 1876 to the Present describes the sixties as "the second decade of revolution for American ceramics," and the seventies as the "time when contemporary ceramics had become too large and too energetic to be dismissed as commercial stuff for the craft fairs." However, these ceramic histories focus mainly on male practitioners of the time.
Feminism is difficult to define, even among feminists. For example, the age, class and race of an individual can determine her ideas and concerns. Some women may be concerned with birth control rights, while others may be concerned with the welfare of women and children worldwide. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, these concerns were manifest in the Women's Liberation Birth Control Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus (later the U of R Women's Centre), and groups such as The Voice of Women. The former officially opened in 1969, with a mandate, as recorded in Herstory:
In addition to providing these services, the Women's Liberation Birth Control Centre also pointed out examples of sexual and racial harassment within the university by publishing an open letter in the university newspaper to urge women to bring grievances of harassment to the attention of the Centre.
The Voice of Women (VOW) was a national group that was formed in 1960 as a response to the threat of nuclear war. The Regina chapter (RVOW) was formed in 1961 and it is described by Roberta Lexier as "a maternal feminist organization; it was structured around the concept that women, as mothers and wives, had 'special experience and values that would be crucial to society.'" VOW structured activities that allowed women to participate while taking care of their own children. The threat of nuclear war was not the only concern for RVOW. Other issues included the Vietnam War, nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry, and environmental damage caused by radioactive materials that are found in the fallout from nuclear explosions. RVOW knit clothing for Vietnamese children, collected baby teeth to determine levels of Strontium-90 present, organized boycotts and wrote letters to governments to voice these concerns. By the early 1970s, Lexier states, the rise of second wave feminism and changes in society, such as women entering the workforce, meant the end of VOW.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Regina was experiencing a shift from maternal feminism to a more radical, second wave feminism. Some of the six ceramists who are included in the exhibition were active in these organizations, while others were aware of feminism and its issues. Hone and James were members of RVOW. In fact, Hone was RVOW's first president. During her studies in Regina, Keelan was interested in feminism and figures such as Gloria Steinem. Keelan states that "what feminism meant to me was that it was okay not to want to get married and define my life through husband and children-a very radical idea at the time." Although the arts campus was separate from the main campus, the university newspaper contained issues of importance to the Women's Liberation Birth Control Centre and it may have been read by ceramists practicing at the university. Both maternal feminism and early second wave feminism were therefore familiar to some of the six female ceramists.
Feminism, in turn, influenced many disciplines, including the visual arts. Female artists started to question and confront the sexism that was practiced in art museums, commercial galleries and art journals. A new discourse emerged in art and art history regarding the position of the female artist and her experiences. Feminism in the arts during the 1970s is defined by Whitney Chadwick as follows:
Feminist art sought strategies to express female experience and to challenge the patriarchal stronghold on the art world. Some of these strategies included collaboration, creating alternative pedagogical environments and celebrating and elevating notions of decoration and the body.
The division of labour is an important issue to feminism in general. Historically, men occupied the public sphere while women occupied the private or domestic sphere. Feminism endeavoured to change this dichotomy. The Hone-James Studio, which was founded by Beth Hone and Ann James, was located in a former United Church on the corner of 13th Avenue and Pasqua Street in Regina (fig. 38). It was in operation from 1968 to 1976. Hone and James had met while taking classes at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus. The Hone-James studio was created primarily as a studio space for Hone and James in a step towards artistic practice that was independent of the university. Classes were offered to the public to support the studio financially. The studio consisted of at least six motorized wheels, a damp room, a glazing area and a large gas kiln. By administering classes and creating a professional studio, Hone and James created a working environment that functioned as an example of the paradigm shift that was taking place in the work force. In addition, the studio was a collaborative business venture.
The Hone-James Studio was an important addition to the ceramics community in Regina because it offered an alternative pedagogical setting for those who were interested in ceramics. In fact, it was a setting that was owned and operated by women, in contrast to the university's art department, which had an all-male faculty to teach studio classes. Later, the studio was owned solely by James. At that time, Ruth Welsh and Pat (Courtnage) Bjarnason, who had been drawn to the university for its ceramics program, were working and teaching at the studio rather than the university. Both reportedly left the university because they did not like the environment that they found there. A female-owned and operated studio offered an alternative to the patriarchal structure of the university; it was revolutionary and feminist because of the power it placed in the hands of the women to control what was to be taught and who was to be brought to the studio. Hone states that there was a real interest in hand building at the studio, in comparison to a focus on wheel throwing at the university. In addition, in 1969 the studio was instrumental in bringing ceramist James Melchert to Regina to lecture and run a workshop.
James' Vase (Doulton Flower Group), circa 1969 (cat. 68) and Hone's Fluted Gills #1, circa 1972 (cat. 64) and Fluted Gills #2, circa 1972 (cat. 65) are examples of the work from the Hone-James studio period. By applying a historical lens, we see that the work can be understood to engage with a specific history of ceramics. The title of James' work leads the viewer to think of the decorative flower clusters that were sold by Royal Doulton. Although not consciously referring to the Doulton flower clusters, Hone's work can be compared to the clusters because of her work's organic subject matter and its composition of a multi-petal form emerging from a vessel. Historically, women were employed in ceramic factories to model flowers which would be used to decorate chandeliers and create artificial flowers. This eighteenth century association of women and flower making draws upon well established conventions of women as the creators of the still-life, the flower painting and the botanical drawing.
Class also plays an important role in terms of materials. Porcelain has a long history of being collected by the bourgeois, while earthenware was sold at the lower end of the market. Vase (Doulton Flower Group) uses the convention of the floral cluster but creates a cluster in the "lower end" earthenware. Hone combines porcelain and stoneware. The fungal petals are porcelain while the vessels are stoneware. In addition, James creates a floral cluster which appears dead or burnt, while Hone creates a cluster that is full of fungi. These are not stereotypical, lush, colourful flower arrangements, yet there is still a beauty and delicacy to be found in the clusters. In applying a feminist lens as well as a historical lens to the work, one discovers an alternative meaning of James' work. It rejects the historically subordinated and invisible position of the female factory worker and of the rich consumer/collector of the decorative piece by creating a cluster which is burnt or dead looking. Although James has said that she "doesn't like women's lib," some of her works and her membership in RVOW make it possible to examine her work through feminist and historical lenses. James may reject the label of "feminist" but her subject matter allows a dialogue between the work and feminism. By contrast, Hone has stated that she is a feminist who has been interested in women's issues from birth control to politics. Hone's work also evokes an alternative meaning when these lenses are applied because of her combination of low and high-end materials.
In the 1970s, many women chose collaboration as a political action to subvert the myth of the solitary male genius. In her essay "Collaboration," Judith Stein outlines seven forms of collaboration, including public art. Stein explains that the very nature of public art is one of collaboration between artists, engineers, architects and landscapers. In addition, the 1970s were a time when artists who worked in the high modernist style were creating public artwork that was inaccessible and at times even offensive to the general public. Norma Broude and Mary Garrard argue that the contribution that women made, with the public art projects that they presented, changed the field to create works that blended the personal and the public.
Lorraine Malach created many large-scale, ceramic works for the public. In terms of collaboration, Malach worked not only with masonry experts such as Jake Ketler during the installation process, but also with the Hansen-Ross Pottery of Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan to create works such as Sunflower, 1968 (cat. 99). Over the years, Malach has revealed a concern about the reception of her works by viewers. For instance, in discussing a mural that she created for Notre Dame Church in Port Alberni, British Columbia in 1982, Malach states, "People wanted to have something special for their anniversary, something that would be long lasting. . . . The difficulty was to produce something that was not going to be in the way, and at the same time hold its own on the wall. It does. I was very pleased because it looked like it has always been on the wall." Malach also talks of the consideration given to the viewer in her 1983 Sturdy-Stone Centre mural: "It's a relatively low relief. I wanted it to be more part of a wall so people wouldn't have any anxiety about standing underneath." From these quotations, one can imply that Malach took into account the acceptance and comfort of the intended community while designing her public murals.
Another area of creation in which some feminists immersed themselves was the study and celebration of decoration, which has consistently been gendered as female. As Norma Broude states, "Throughout modernism, the decorative and domestic handicrafts have been regarded as 'women's work,' a form of 'low art' from which western 'high art,' with its claims to significant moral and spiritual content, has striven to separate itself."
Maija Peeples-Bright works in several different mediums, including ceramics, fibre and paint. She asserts, "Art drives my daily life. The final piece created must be absolutely right and my best effort. I like to explore, experiment with media and always enjoy myself." Peeples-Bright moved to Saskatchewan, where she lived in and around Regina from 1970 to 1971. While in Regina, she states, she felt no male-female distinctions with the Regina ceramists; instead, she experienced distinctions between the traditional potters and the more experimental, funk ceramists. She states that she is not a feminist and that she was "a totally UN-political being."
Peeples-Bright insists that her world is not polarized by sex or race, yet her choice of materials, such as fibre (crocheting), and a concentration on the decorative in her ceramics and paintings are deeply associated with the feminine. In Peacock Peaks, 1970-71 (cat. 102), a repetitive use of different animal motifs and bright colours are decorative. The animals are carefully arranged so as to create a grid-like pattern which travels around the form. Alliteration is also found in many of Peeples-Bright's titles. The repetitive sounds contribute to the overall decorative effect. Although Peeples-Bright does not claim to be a feminist, when a feminist lens is applied to her work, her use of decorative patterning can be understood to celebrate and elevate the status of the decorative arts.
As Joanna Fruch observes, during the 1970s feminist artists "attempted to reclaim the female body by creating their own aesthetic pleasures by representing women's bodies." The resulting images are an important part of the feminist art output of the 1970s, and they are the location of numerous critiques of essentialism and utopianism.
A relationship to the body is also at the heart of Marilyn Levine and Margaret Keelan's work. Between 1963 and 1964, Levine took classes from Hone, an active feminist in Regina. In addition, Levine attended graduate school and frequently travelled to California, where feminists such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro were teaching and exhibiting. Levine states that her work involves "the story told by trace." Her boots, shoes, and bags reference the body through the traces of intimate contact which the wearer had with the original leather object. However, her design of Laced Boot Cup, 1973 (cat. 96), which is made of earthenware, cleverly allows for a play on the body metaphor as it applies to both the vessel form and footwear. In this example, laces accentuate the curvature of the body of the vessel. The laces also allude to brassieres, and the tongue of the boot ends just below the lip of the cup.
The viewer is compelled to approach and touch Levine's work. Because of the trompe-l'oeil effect that Levine creates, the viewer wants to touch the object to validate what the eye sees. One of the joys that people experience while wearing leather is its feeling against the skin. Should one touch Levine's work, it would become immediately apparent that the object is not made of leather. Instead, the ceramic surface would produce a cool, hard sensation, in contrast to the expectations of the eye. This bewitching contrast is addicting, causing the viewer to want to touch and view the object over and over again.
Through a feminist lens, we see that Levine deals with the body while eschewing conventional ways of representation that objectify the female body. In addition, the work is complicated further by the enticement that one feels when viewing the object. No longer is it just an implied body which has made the marks, but rather the viewer's body which contributes to the traces.
Keelan, a self-declared feminist who was very aware of the California feminists, approaches the body in a different way. She references the body more literally than Levine. In her Untitled piece from circa 1973 (cat. 78), one sees a female body with the feet and head of a bird. The figure is reclined in a classical manner that references many of the nudes that feminist art subverts. The use of the bird is another clever way to speak of the female, because slang terms, such as "bird" and "chick," refer to a sexy woman. However, there is a contradiction with the work because the creature is not sexy. In fact, there is a notion of the abject in this work. The creature is neither human nor bird. It appears to have a broken neck, and the colouring of the clay alludes to rotting flesh. One way in which feminist artists have tried to overturn femininity is to defy good taste and feminine respectability. This creature is not the beautiful, objectified body that is found in Western art or a sexy "chick," yet one can still read it as an alternative way of representing the female body. This complexity creates a contradiction between the disgust that Western society applies to the female body and the objectifying language that is used to describe the female body when it is viewed as sexy.All of these artists represent different environments, working relationships and objects, and at first glance their works may seem to be worlds apart. However, when a feminist or historical lens is applied, an interesting relationship begins to develop with the politics of feminist art. These relationships add meaning that make the works of Levine, James, Hone, Keelan, Peeples-Bright and Malach layered and engaging. Their work can be seen through a feminist lens, whether or not the maker sees herself as a feminist. Applying this lens still allows room for the maker to voice her own political position. The history of ceramics and women in ceramics is, however, a rich story that is often left untold. These six women have produced works that cannot be silenced but must be addressed outside of the dominant story of Regina clay. Their works stand on their own strength, and for those artists who do acknowledge being feminists, their work is politically charged with a history that is not found in the work of Regina's male ceramists.
 Laura Meyer, "From Finish Fetish to Feminism: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in California Art History" in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in Feminist Art History, ed. Amelia Jones (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 55.
 Garth Clark, American Ceramics: 1876 to the Present, rev. ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987), 117.
 Clark, 176.
 Moira Vincentelli critiques the absence of women in Garth Clark's survey of American ceramics. She has observed that many women are recorded in the 1940s, but the numbers drop to almost nothing in the 1960s and then climb to represent only one-third of the ceramists discussed in the final chapter on the 1980s. See Moira Vincentelli, Women and Ceramics: Gendered Vessels (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 249-50.
 U of R Women's Centre, Herstory, unpublished manuscript, no date, 1.
 U of R Women's Centre, 1.
 Maryanne Cotcher, "A National Organisation in a Prairie City: The Regina Voice of Women, 1961-1963," Saskatchewan History 56 (Spring 2004): 21.
 Roberta Lexier, "Linking the Past with the Future: Voice of Women in Regina," Saskatchewan History 56 (Fall 2004): 26.
 Lexier, 29-30.
 Lexier, 32.
 See 11 March 1961, Regina Voice of Women minutes of the Executive Meeting. Ann James is recorded as present and she was in charge of publicity for the general meeting. Minutes are reproduced in Cotcher, 26.
 Cotcher, 22.
 Margaret Keelan, e-mails to the author, 17-21 February 2005.
 Meyer, 55.
 Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society, 2nd ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 8.
 This paper will endeavour to examine the works cited through a lens that is tinted by feminist art of the 1970s. In addition, the feminist art discourse which will be most heavily relied upon is an American West Coast discourse. This choice was made because of the strong ties that the Regina ceramics community had with California during the 1970s. Issues that surround essentialism, which is the downplaying of the differences between women so that a unified front could be assembled to struggle against patriarchy, are beyond the scope of this paper and will not be discussed.
 Beth Hone, telephone interview by the author, 28 February 2005.
 Hone, interview.
 Ruth Willson, "Artists transform old church into studio," Leader-Post (Regina),12 October 1968, 9.
 Reg Silvester, "Sculptors hope to teach the art in Regina Studio," Leader-Post (Regina), 14 January 1974, 7.
 Hone states that she had the impression that there was more of a focus on wheel throwing at the university than at the Hone-James studio (Hone, interview). This is an interesting observation that suggests parallels between the "traditional" roles of male and female potters. According to Moira Vincentelli in Women Potters: Transforming Traditions, "throwing was an artisan activity for men," while women traditionally hand built pieces. See Moira Vincentelli, Women Potters: Transforming Traditions (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 14.
 The Melchert workshop was instrumental in nurturing Marilyn Levine's leather work.
 Vincentelli, Women and Ceramics, 82-83.
 Vincentelli, Women and Ceramics, 111 and 239.
 Silvester, 7.
 Judith Stein, "Collaboration" in The Power of Feminist Art, eds. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 226.
 Stein, 226. The seven forms of collaboration are: aesthetic partnership, updated model of the quilting bee, potluck format, forum of a political demonstration, public art, eco feminists and collaboration with a newly discovered heritage.
 Stein, 226.
 Norma Broude and Mary Garrard, "Introduction: Feminism and Art in the Twentieth Century" in The Power of Feminist Art, 23.
 Jake Ketler is the Saskatoon mason who is credited with collaborating on the installation of her work for: the Sturdy-Stone Centre in Saskatoon; Notre Dame Church in Port Alberni, B.C.; and he completed the installation for The Story of Life, 2003 in Drumheller, Alberta. See Deana Driver, "Lorraine Malach-A Great Talent Plus Inspiration = Distinctive Murals," Prairie Arts 1 (Fall 1983): 21; Elaine Carlson, "Lorraine Malach Between Commissions," Regina This Month (June 1982): 4; Royal Tyrell Museum, "The Story of Life," Tracks + Traces 2 (Winter 2003): 4.
 Other collaborations with Hansen-Ross Pottery include 1970 pieces for the St. Michael's Retreat House in Lumsden and the Catholic Information Centre in Regina.
 Carlson, 4.
 Deana Driver, "Artist Runs on Willpower," Leader-Post (Regina), 25 March 1983, D9.
 Norma Broude, "The Pattern and Decoration Movement" in The Power of Feminist Art,208.
 Maija Peeples-Bright, e-mails to the author, 17-18 February 2005.
 Peeples Bright, e-mails.
 Peeples-Bright, e-mails.
 Joanna Fruch, "The Body Through Women's Eyes" in The Power of Feminist Art, 190.
 Fruch, 190.
 See Sam Jornlin, "Chronology" in Maija Bismanis, Marilyn Levine: A Retrospective (Regina: MacKenzie Art Gallery, 1998), 63-64.
 Beth Hone was also aware of Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, 1975-79, a work which attempted to reclaim the female body and its sexuality. Hone's interest in Chicago's work led her to travel to Calgary to see the Dinner Party at the Glenbow Museum in 1982-83.
 Jornlin, 68.
 See Timothy Long, "A Fold in Time" in Marilyn Levine: A Retrospective, 32.
 Long, 32.
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