“Live Form” book 9.14.2017

I was hoping this week to write about my trip to the north shore of Minnesota, but that got cancelled due to a long bout of what I think was the flu. So, instead of hiking the trails along Lake Superior and holding hands with my sweetheart by firelight at a cabin on the shore, I was pretty much confined to my home, with lots of time for low-energy activities.

I’d read a review somewhere about a new book written by Jenni Sorkin titled “Live Form: Women, Ceramics and Community.” And I found it at my library via their Outer Library Loan program, where, for free, I can request a book from any other participating library in the United States. How cool is that? I love my library!

Anyway, the book came in right on time – when I was getting sick. I snuggled in on the couch with tea, tissues, throat lozenges, and Kitten.


There are plenty of book reviews already written. Here’s a pretty good one. Although I found the writing pedantic and academic at times, (which made sense when I learned that the book sprang from her PhD research at Yale University,) following are some ah-hahs and thoughts I had as I read this book, in no particular order:

  • This book helps me put a missing part of 20th century ceramics herstory into perspective.
  • Art versus craft. What’s the difference? This is a question I sometimes, I think needlessly, struggle with in my mind.  (Here’s a short film from the Khan Academy that puts this question into perspective.) Author Sorkin also brings “craft” into a gendered topic. Acht! I think I prefer to remind myself that Art is in the Eye of the Beholder!
  • Societal rules placed upon women. Reading this book reminds me that societal pressures play a large, sometimes and seemingly hidden and dark force that fights against women being whoever they want to be. And for that matter, any group of people that the current societal ruling class wants to keep down. I guess I’m trying to say that for me, it’s good to be reminded that life ain’t that easy.
  • Men had more opportunities for education after WWII.  Sorkin writes that artists Karl Martz, WIlliam Watson, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland, and Peter Voulkos all went to school using funds from the GI bill. I wonder how many women were afforded that opportunity? I doubt many.
  • Lillian Boschen, a highly-skilled potter, was appointed the first official resident director of the famed Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana but was forced out in less than a year in favor of Peter Voulkos who was appointed “on the basis of his emerging national reputation and his charisma.” Good to know that a female was the first Bray director.
  • Shoji Hamada, famous Japanese potter, “performed” at Black Mountain School, working silently in traditional Japanese attire, while Bernard Leach, “the Father of British Studio Pottery” stood alongside, “a mediator providing commentary, adding a layer of western-style interpretation. Though Hamada spoke and wrote English fluently, he excelled at the role of stoic Zen master, allowing Leach to “translate” on his behalf.”  This really was a performance, methinks! Sounds like Hamada and Leach profited off this performance, as well, both in fortune and fame, and it played into the mystique and importance of male potters.

Okay, there’s more, but I think this enough for you to digest! Although the reading was sometimes difficult, I loved this book, and recommend it for anyone wanting to learn more about women and art in the mid-twentieth century.

This is the book without the dust jacket. LOVE the mustard color!
And the book with dust jacket on. The is a wonderful photo montage of ceramist Marguerite Wildenhain’s hands, taken by Otto Hagel.

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