Polished Pathmakers

Dynamic women designers and artists from the mid-20th century and today create innovative designs, maintain craft traditions, and incorporate new aesthetics into fine art in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each week, compare and draw parallels between works on view in Pathmakers and NMWA collection favorites.

On view in Pathmakers

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled #10, 1995

Odundo’s earthenware vessel Untitled #10 is on view at NMWA. Characteristic of Odundo’s ceramics, the work in Pathmakers incorporates a bulbous shape, an elegant, elongated neck, and an upturned mouth. Although her works are born out of deeply rooted traditional processes, Odundo’s sleek, evocative works are truly modern creations.

PR-Permission_Magdalene-Odundo

Magdalene Odundo; Photo: Scott Allen, Courtesy of Magdalene Odundo

Who made it?

The artistic practice of Magdalene Odundo (b. 1950, Nairobi, Kenya) draws from an array of cultural traditions. She began her artistic career in Kenya and studied pottery in England, receiving a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London. Through traveling, Odundo adopted indigenous ceramic techniques from master potters in Kenya and West African traditions in Nigeria. She was also greatly influenced by Pueblo potters’ blackware in the American Southwest. Odundo works and resides in London.

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled #10, 1995; Earthenware, 21 1/4 x 12 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1996, Louis Bamberger Bequest Fund 96.29; Photo by Richard Goodbody

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled #10, 1995; Earthenware, 21 1/4 x 12 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1996, Louis Bamberger Bequest Fund 96.29; Photo by Richard Goodbody

How was it made?

Many of Odundo’s works are reminiscent of the human form. Small adjustments in her clay vessels have a dramatic impact on each work’s overall aesthetic—seen in the slight bend in the neck of Untitled #10. Rather than throwing on a wheel, she uses a hand-coiling method—a practice used worldwide for thousands of years. After stacking clay coils on top of one another, she pulls the clay upward, scraping the coils into smooth structures while hollowing out the bodies. She then burnishes each surface to a high sheen. The most transformative step in Odundo’s process occurs during firing. Many of her works, including Untitled #10, have a black, smoky finish as a result of oxidization during firing. Works such as Untitled #10 are so labor-intensive that she creates only a few each year.

Collection Connection

In NMWA’s collection, Gold Chalice (1985) by Beatrice Wood (1893–1998) is also a polished ceramic vessel. In iridescent shades of gold, pink, and purple, this work seems exuberant. The vessel’s luster glaze heightens its curvilinear surfaces. Additional ornamentation consisting of multiple looped handles and circular knobs may allude to the ceremonial function of a chalice.

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

Wood was renowned for gleaming lusterware objects—produced from metallic salts on the glaze’s surface. Devoted to experimentation and exploration, Wood often tossed chemicals (including mothballs) into her kiln to influence the effects of firing. Wood created Gold Chalice when she was 92 years old. After careers as an actress and Dada artist, Wood became a studio potter. Wood worked in Ojai, California, from 1947 until her death at age 105.

Visit the museum and explore Pathmakers, on view through February 28, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Now Open: Women Shape Design in “Pathmakers”

NMWA’s latest exhibition, Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, is now open! Museum staff have been busy transforming the 2nd-floor galleries to display more than 80 objects including furniture, ceramics, textiles and jewelry. The exhibition explores the lasting impact of women artists and designers on midcentury Modernism through making groundbreaking commercial and industrial designs, maintaining craft traditions, and incorporating new aesthetics into fine art.

Pathmakers-1

Guest curator Jennifer Scanlan talks to members during Member Preview Day

In the 1950s and ’60s, an era when painting, sculpture, and architecture were dominated by men, women had considerable impact in alternative materials such as textiles, ceramics, and metals. Pioneers in these fields—including Ruth Asawa, Edith Heath, Sheila Hicks, Karen Karnes, Dorothy Liebes, Alice Kagawa Parrott, Lenore Tawney, and Eva Zeisel—had tremendous influence as designers, artists, and teachers.

Visitors explore prints by Anni Albers and a textile work by Marianne Strengell

Visitors explore prints by Anni Albers and a textile work by Marianne Strengell

Their artistic practices varied widely—some exhibited in New York City galleries, others took part in the regional handicraft scene in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and still others collaborated with corporations such as General Motors. Pathmakers also illustrates parallels between women creating work in the United States and Scandinavia, where craft often served as a pathway to Modernist innovation.

Guest curators Jennifer Scanlan and Ezra Shales also consider contemporary female artists and designers whose work builds upon that of their midcentury counterparts. Polly Apfelbaum and Michelle Grabner are represented by installations centered on woven and knitted patterns, while Anne Wilson’s work focuses on the processes of textile manufacture. Magdalene Odundo and Christine Nofchissey McHorse adapt traditional techniques and absorb influences from global sources. Furniture and fixture designers Vivian Beer, Front Design, and Hella Jongerius have also expanded the repertoire of making, while Gabriel A. Maher looks at the ways gender is constructed by the clothes we wear.

Pathmakers 2

A visitor studies Front’s Axor WaterDream/Axor Shower System

Pathmakers stresses the connections between midcentury and contemporary design and aesthetics,” said NMWA Associate Curator Virginia Treanor. “The installation will encourage the comparison of the modern and contemporary periods in a way that enables close inspection.”

Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today is on view through February 28, 2016. Visit this Sunday for a Free Community Day with a pop-up makerspace and enjoy noon gallery talks every Wednesday!