O Pioneers! Women Ceramic Artists, 1925-1960

Public reception: Thursday, September 10, 6:15 - 7:30 p.m.

(following the Perkins Lecture)

September 10 - November 20, 2015

"O Pioneers! Women Ceramic Artists, 1925-1960" revisits important contributions of women to American art history on several levels - as artists negotiating modernism and as educators paving new roles in the academy. Drawing from the collection of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum and the Everson Museum, as well as private collections, the exhibition includes over 100 works, ranging across functional pottery and figurative sculpture, and presents a complex narrative of global influences, a diverse cast, and, perhaps most importantly, illuminates a time when an imaginative reverence toward historical form, clay, and glazes permeated both the academy and the gallery. Ceramics might not have been considered a field or discipline outside of a few schools in America, but it was a vocation many women embraced as a new way to imagine a life of work.

Visiting curator: Ezra Shales
Coordinated by Susan Kowalczyk

One hundred years ago, in 1915, when Marion Fosdick (1888-1973) became the first woman to teach studio art at the New York State College of Ceramics, women were struggling state by state to ratify the right to vote. The exhibition shows many artworks by women who won medals in the 1930s at the prestigious ceramic nationals organized by the Syracuse Museum (now the Everson), and in the 1950s in the American Craft Council’s exhibitions, long before Feminism was theorized as a rationale for inclusion. This exhibition remembers the prominent women artists of the first half of the twentieth century - such as Adelaide Alsop Robineau, Eva Zeisel, Maija Grotell, Maria Martinez -and is the first to appreciate artists such as Karen Karnes and Toshiko Takaezu as a part of this earlier era, when art was borne aloft by affection for clay, curiosity about form, and a life-long work ethic.

The exhibition was inspired by the memory of Marion Fosdick - or the lack thereof. Fosdick taught at Alfred University for three decades and her work was once esteemed and purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. Her life and journey mirrors the exhibition’s scope: she wrote for Robineau’s journal Keramic Studio, was a winner of Everson ceramic nationals, exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, and was remembered by many students as a pioneer - so much so that Hal Riegger dedicated his study on raku to her. Several works by Fosdick that have not been exhibited in decades will be included in "O Pioneers!"

The exhibition’s title is borrowed from Willa Cather. Her 1913 novel depicts a Swedish-American woman struggling to inhabit her father’s failing farm in the Great Plains and acutely aware of her love for "the Land" - as well as the greater pragmatism of establishing a life in Chicago. Alexandra, Cather’s protagonist, is a woman caught between ambition and responsibility: "A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves." If seminal texts such as Nikolaus Pevsner’s Pioneers of Modern Design (1936) inform the way much of art history has been written as a succession of men of genius disrupting traditions and convention, Cather’s O Pioneers! is a corrective tonic -a more psychologically complex narrative where women face modernity and make a new world for themselves.

An illustrated exhibition catalog will include more than a dozen object-focused essays by some of today’s leading scholars.