Is It the 1960s? (by Karen S. Musgrave)

Invader_KarenMusgrave I had not intended to add to Olga’s discussion on crochet but serendipity played its part so here I am. When Stephanie Lanter’s piece “Invader” arrived at ClaySpace for its national competition and exhibit, Clay3 (work must fit in a 12″ x12″ x12″ cube), it was in eight pieces. When no one else would step up to fix it, I did. This lead me to look further into Stephanie’s work where I would discover porcelain and fiber sculptures that dealt with communication.

My porcelain and fiber sculptures are symbols representations of relations (i.e. communications) with others and ourselves. These intimate ‘phones’ are softened and contextualized with threads and crocheted doilies. Inspired by by the sensuality of antique phones, my use of low-tech process is not a critique of technology but of behavior. I examine dysfunction, loneliness, ‘home,’ and ambivalence through abstraction and excess, and laugh at my obsessions in this realm of connection. Also, I wonder how changing modes of fulfilling this basic need to “reach out and touch” each other–is also changing us.”

ToDelete, PressStar_StephanieLanter

To Delete, Press Star



When I was sharing my discoveries with a friend, she thought I should check out the work of Norma Minkowitz. Norma explores the possibilities of crocheted, interlaced sculptures stiffened into hard mesh-like forms. Her work deals with the passage of time, fragility of life, and  the inevitability of mortality. “Despite the repeated use of the same basic stitch, no two are exactly alike. This conveys the intimacy and imperfection of the human hand while creating a movement akin to the cross hatching of a pen and ink drawing. The interlacing technique that I use makes it possible for me to convey the fragile, the hidden, and the mysterious qualities of my work, in psychological statements that invite the viewer to interpret and contemplate my art. I am still drawing, but with fiber. “

Talking with Olga, she made a comment that it was beginning to feel like the sixties again. “It will be macrame next.” Of course , I had to explore what was happening in macrame and found some incredible artists using this medium. We are most certainly not talking hippie macrame.   Jim (no last name given) creates skulls out of macrame. His website is here. Then there is Ukrainian artist Vladimir Denshchikov who creates religious icons using macrame and painted canvas (only the faces are painted).

I suspect that just like quilts, crochet and macrame have evolved. And I always find it interesting what medium people choose to express themselves. So if this is a reflection of growth from the 1960s, I say, “Rock on!”

jim Macramemacrame-art-19-s

Clay and Fiber: More in Common Than You Think (by Karen Musgrave)

In September 2012, I decided to move outside of my comfort zone and take a pottery/ceramics class. In addition to learning the art, I began studying the history and the work of ceramic artists. I discovered that the historical flow of knowledge and influence began in China then moved to Korea and finally to Japan. I choose to spend some time studying Japanese ceramics because I could more easily find translations and information. As I studied, I was struck by the many similarities between ceramics and quilts. There is the art vs. craft debate. Despite names like “bowl,” “jar,” or “vessel,” that imply some sort of practical function, pieces are created with the idea that personal fulfillment and self-expression are often more important than practical utility and commercial success. There is also the tension between the traditionalists and those who breaking away from tradition.  And finally, there is the educated vs the self taught debate.  It is my hope that this provides food for thought.


Kishi Eiko (1948-) took archeology and anthropology courses in college, studied dyeing and painting and art history before taking up clay. She has no formal ties to a ceramic tradition. This independence has enabled her to develop a unique style. She uses a technique of her own invention, which she calls “color inlay” and usually works on two pieces at a time for months at a time. This piece took three months to make. “It is only in making my work that I understand where the piece is going.”


Katsumata Chieko’s (1950-) work reflects a distinctive ceramic education. All her formal training took place in France, where she traveled with a plan to study industrial design. A meeting with Texas-born potter Fance Franck inspired her to pursue a ceramic career.  Her love of ancient artifacts bearing the marks of time owes something to the sixteen-century Japanese tea-ceremony masters and the aesthetic of wabi sabi. Yet Katsumata uses colors that are far removed from those traditional Japanese ceramics. “I am attracted to things…that convey the passing of time.”


Yabe Makoto (1947-2005) lived and worked full-time outside of Japan. He began studying ceramics at 18 and completed his training at twenty-four, following a four-year apprenticeship with Shikokai, a small avant-garde group. He moved to Massachusetts in 1977 and remained in the U.S. until his death. Yabe experimented with the demanding nerikomi marbling technique that originated in Tang-dynasty China ((618-907). His work reflects the struggle between functionality and expression. “Mostly, it doesn’t come out as I expected!”

A great book to lean more about contemporary Japanese ceramics is Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century by Joe Earle (2005, MFA Publications). I look forward to your thoughts.

Eva Hesse: A Woman Ahead of Her Time (by Karen S. Musgrave)

Eva Hesse (1936-1970) had an impressive, although short career due to a brain tumor. Her work reflects her traumatic life. Born in Nazi Germany, at the age of 2 she was sent to the Netherlands with her older sister for safekeeping. In 1939, she was reunited with her parents for emigration to the United States. Her uncle and grandparents died in concentration camps. All before the age of 10, Hesse would experience her mother’s  mental breakdown, her parents’ separation and divorce, her father’s remarrying and her mother’s suicide.  At 16 years old, she graduated from the New York School of Industrial Arts. For a year, she studied at the Pratt Institute of Design. She studied figure drawing at the Art Student’s League while she worked for Seventeen magazine as a layout artist. She graduated from Cooper Union in 1957 and earned a BA at Yale University in 1959. At Yale, she studied color theory with Joseph Albers. During this period most of her work was paintings while being heavily influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Her work was highly personal due to the help of intense self-analysis. She began psychiatric therapy in 1954 and maintained it throughout her life. “I think art is a total thing. A total person giving a contribution. It is an essence, a soul…In my inner soul, art and life are inseparable.”

Hesse was also intrigued by the Dada notion of the absurd and this will later be seen in her sculptures. In 1965, after a lengthy stay studying abroad with her sculptor husband Tom Doyle (they would separate in 1966) in Germany, she began to explore three-dimensional forms, first in relief and then in sculpture. Hang Up, created in 1966, touches upon her desire to move away from drawing and painting and has been called “an ironic commentary on painting.” She considered this to be her first significant work of art. Repetition of forms, including grids and chaotic hanging, stacked, and spilling forms would be the focus for the remainder of her life.  In my readings, I learned that after separating from her husband, she would connect with other artists and for the first time truly consider herself to be an artist.

In 1982, an exhibition of just her drawings, Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of the Drawings, began at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlain, Ohio, and traveled to museums around the Untied States.  Hesse had a two day artist residency with the museum. Because of her liking for the museum, a major portion of her estate: sketches, notebooks, diaries, appointment calendars, correspondence, posters, and exhibition catalogues were donated by her sister in 1977. The museum would also acquire one of the last sculptures she created- Laocoön. Laocoön refers to the well-known Hellenistic sculpture of the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons, their bodies trapped in the grip of pythons sent by the gods. It is also an example of her love of grids and showcases her use of unconventional materials.

In 1967, Hesse began to use unconventional materials like latex, fiberglass and plastics. She blurred the boundaries between sculpture and painting by combining painted materials with three-dimensional objects, which she hung from the ceiling. Hesse was always aware of the ironic interplay between two-dimensional and three-dimensional form. Contingent, which she made in 1969, is an example and one of my personal favorites. The piece is made of stretched cheesecloth covered with latex, and fiberglass. It was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, in 1973 and is part of their permanent collection.

Hesse died before the feminist movement of the 1970s and yet, she insisted that feminine themes were valid subjects for art. Her work emphasized the intuitive and self-reflective. We know from her diaries that she wanted her art to reflect her life. Conceptual artist Mel Bochner called Hesse a forerunner of feminism, nothing that the first big women’s march took place in August 1970, four months after her death. She took minimalism’s rigid logic to concepts of the self and its boundaries and created art in her own image.

Hesse continued to work until her death from brain cancer (ascribed to her use of fiberglass resins) in May 1970 at the age of 34.  Hesse called her cancer an autobiographical coincidence; hers occurred two years after her stepmother recovered from cancer. Untitled, completely shortly before her death, suggested a new direction in her work. Here knotted ropes were suspended from the ceiling. Rejecting the idea of a singular style, Hesse made her own definition: “… how to achieve by not achieving? How to make by not making? it’s all in that./it’s not new. it’s what is not yet known, thought seen touched—but really what is not, and that is.”

“I want to be surprised, to find something new. I don’t want to know the answer before but want an answer that can surprise.”

In revisiting the life and art of Eva Hesse, I have been asking myself the following questions:

1. How important is it that art reflect life?

2. How important is community (being around other artists) to creating art?

3. There is so much talk of having a singular style and yet Hesse rejected this notion and made her own definition of style. How important is style? What is your definition of style?

*Note: Because of the copyright, I have chosen to link to images. I hope this did not cause you not to read or visit the sites with the images and more information. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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