Garth Johnson - Hixson-Lied Visiting Artist
Garth Johnson - Ceramics
Hixson-Lied Visiting Artist
Writer, curator and educator Garth Johnson is the Paul Phillips and
Sharon Sullivan Curator of Ceramics at the Everson Museum of Art, where he
oversees their world-renowned Ceramics collection. Johnson received his
B.F.A. from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his M.F.A. from Alfred
University. Before moving to Syracuse, Garth served as the Curator of
Ceramics at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Curator of
Artistic Programs at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia and spent seven years as
a Professor at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California. Johnson is a
self-described craft activist who explores craft’s influence and relevance
in the 21st century. His research interests range from 1960s and 70s
artist-led movements in the field of ceramics to the intersection of clay,
video, and performance. His recent exhibitions at the Everson include The
Floating Bridge: Postmodern and Contemporary Japanese Ceramics, Renegades &
Reformers: American Art Pottery, and Earth Piece: Conceptual and Performative
Works in Clay. His writing has been published nationally and internationally,
with recent contribution to the books Repositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is
Nature and Victor Cicansky: The Gardener’s Universe.
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[00:00:02.280]Peter Pinnell: As I said, good evening everyone, my name is Pete Pinnell
and i'm a professor in the School of Art, Art History and Design.
[00:00:09.360]Peter Pinnell: i'm here to introduce Gail Kendall who will, in turn,
introduce our speaker for this evening. Gail is an emeritus professor
of this school and taught here from 1987 until her retirement in 2011.
[00:00:22.440]Peter Pinnell: She was also the one who worked closest with Garth Johnson
when he was a student here. Gail introduced Garth to me when I arrived at
UNL in 1995.
[00:00:32.240]Peter Pinnell: telling me that she had one student quote, who is a star unquote
and she was speaking of Garth. It's my pleasure to introduce
my colleague Gail Kendall.
[00:00:42.560]Gail M Kendall: Thanks Pete.
[00:00:45.200]Gail M Kendall: When Garth Johnson arrived in Lincoln to embark on his
undergraduate career, he did three things: opened a shop on O street that sold
used CDs and 50s furniture, he was ahead of his time.
[00:00:59.120]Gail M Kendall: The shop was called Zero Street after a phrase by Allen Ginsberg
poem Auto Poesy to Nebraska.
[00:01:06.680]Gail M Kendall: Next, he secured a slot on KZUM's schedule and produced
a radio program throughout his time in Nebraska.
[00:01:14.760]Gail M Kendall: Before finishing a year in ceramics,
He founded the pottery Liberation Front and created an early
zine called Clayboy.
[00:01:23.440]Gail M Kendall: garth was a seeker, strove to stand out while never acting out.
His subtle wit, his sense of irony, rare in one so young.
[00:01:32.800]Gail M Kendall: Along with his enthusiasm and goodwill insured, he would be
surprised by his mentors and teachers. He worked with Eddie [Dominguez],
Pete and me reading out of each of us the best we had to offer.
[00:01:45.040]Gail M Kendall: Garth's career as an artist and influencer has been one that
embodies thinking outside the box. The merriam Webster dictionary defines
an outlier thustly. A person or thing that is a typical within a particular group,
class or category, please join me in welcoming Garth Johnson.
[00:02:11.400]Garth W Johnson: Gail, Thank you so much.
[00:02:14.120]Garth W Johnson: it's amazing to be on a virtual stage and it's amazing that
we're connecting with so many people who.
[00:02:24.600]Garth W Johnson: who I know I recognize a lot of faces and a lot of mentors
in the audience.
[00:02:30.120]Garth W Johnson: Karen Kunz, I took almost as many printmaking classes
with you, as I did with...
[00:02:37.120]Garth W Johnson: The ceramics faculty. I think George woolf from the English
department might be on, and I will try to...
[00:02:46.320]Garth W Johnson: keep my, be able to...
[00:02:49.120]Garth W Johnson: Speak fluidly here.
[00:02:52.320]Garth W Johnson: Other amazing obsessives and people that I knew from
Lincoln and the music scene are here and my mother, I do make it back
to nebraska when the pandemic isn't going on, and I look forward to my next visit.
[00:03:04.880]Garth W Johnson: A lot has changed since my last official visit to University
of Nebraska so I was brought in in 2015,
[00:03:13.320]Garth W Johnson: and got the opportunity to do a public lecture and I talked
about the winding strange career that brought me here.
[00:03:23.480]Garth W Johnson: i've been a record store owner.
[00:03:26.760]Garth W Johnson: i've worked for an architecture firm as a designer.
I've been an educator and tenured professor in the California Community college
system and I left that tenure job...
[00:03:38.720]Garth W Johnson: to on curating and throw in my lot as a museum curator.
[00:03:47.480]Garth W Johnson: I am now at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York,
otherwise known as Ceramic Mount Olympus and if you don't believe me,
maybe you'll believe this guy so i'm going to welcome a guest.
[00:04:13.440]Garth W Johnson: So i'm going to welcome a guest and let them tell you a little bit
of something about...
[00:04:19.920]Garth W Johnson: The Everson Museum of Art.
[00:04:27.120]Garth W Johnson: An Artist transports the energies, the elements of the world
without to create the world.
[00:04:56.120]Garth W Johnson: To his work, the artist explores the unique self, the unique soul.
The Artist confronts the mythological muse, struggling with life's primordial forces
to evoke the transcendent, the refined, the sublime, and the beautiful.
[00:05:10.160]Garth W Johnson: Only one talent pieces of command of craft a second nature
to the discovery emerged yet remain open to the accidental.
[00:05:18.840]And the unknown. ♪
[00:05:26.960]Garth W Johnson: Okay, so that, for anyone who didn't recognize was none other
than Orson Welles.
[00:05:33.440]Garth W Johnson: And you could do worse than having Orson Welles
play you on for a lecture.
[00:05:38.080]Garth W Johnson: So this was part of a documentary a 30 minute documentary
that was created for the Emerson museum of art back in 1979 to accompany
an exhibition called a century of Ceramics in the United States.
[00:05:50.720]Garth W Johnson: And that's going to be part of what I talk about.
I figured that since I did so much talking about myself during the last time
that I was there I would take the opportunity with this big stage to brag
about the place where....
[00:06:05.160]Garth W Johnson: I currently find employment, the Everson Museum of Art
and it's a place that should be known by all of you in this audience and i'm
going to give you the reasons why you should know the Everson, follow the
Everson and hold it dear to your heart.
[00:06:22.920]Garth W Johnson: And then hopefully it'll be honoring the intentions of how Gail
and Pete so graciously introduced introduced me.
[00:06:30.320]Garth W Johnson: And i'll talk about some of the things that i'm working on
plus one big outside of the box initiative that may actually earn me the title
of outlier if it doesn't kill me first.
[00:06:42.000]Garth W Johnson: So I want to welcome everybody to come visit me
at the Everson, if you just point your car East on i80 and then eventually
switched to i90 you'll wind up in beautiful Syracuse, New York.
[00:06:57.520]Garth W Johnson: This is the Everson Museum of Art, the first reason why
you should come visit the person is that this is an architectural landmark.
The building was created in 1968 by...
[00:07:11.960]Garth W Johnson: None other than I.M. Pei, creator of Wells Fargo Bank in
beautiful downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.
[00:07:21.080]Garth W Johnson: So this is of course the building that he is known for
other than the Louvre Pyramid and the rock and roll hall of fame
and the wells fargo building.
[00:07:30.520]Garth W Johnson: But it's an incredible architectural statement.
He was hired in 1968 early in his career to create this building out of
cast concrete. It can be lumped I guess into the category of brutalist art
but it's an incredible space and one of the prime...
Let me share for a second here.
[00:07:53.120]Garth W Johnson: One of the prime things that's incredible about the space
is related to what's great about an incredible pot, and that is
the exterior and the function...
[00:08:05.000]Garth W Johnson: mirror the Interior and I.M. Pei likes to think about the
Emerson museum of art as a sculpture to contain sculptures,
a sculpture to contain art.
[00:08:17.640]Garth W Johnson: We have four large galleries that are on the top
part of the building, all of them linked by bridges that connect them.
[00:08:25.440]Garth W Johnson: And those four galleries, are the volumes that cantilever
out into space. Very recently, I tried to concoct a scheme whereby...
[00:08:37.760]Garth W Johnson: I would bring the sculptor Viola Fries biggest career
masterpiece to the Everson, which is a series of like 18, 12-foot sculptures.
[00:08:49.520]Garth W Johnson: And it was so heavy that our engineer wouldn't allow it to exist
in these cantilevered spaces. so I.M. Pei has foiled me once, but i'm going to
find other ways to use the space.
[00:09:03.560]Garth W Johnson: The Everson before it was the Everson, was the
Syracuse Museum of Art. So during some of the lecture today I will be
interchanging talking about the Syracuse.
[00:09:14.160]Garth W Johnson: museum of art, which was up until 1968 when the Everson
building opened and then it was the Everson and after that.
but if i'm talking about the Everson in the 1920s...
[00:09:27.280]Garth W Johnson: What i'm referring to is the Syracuse museum of fine art.
Here's a picture of the beautiful Plaza outside of the Everson, and this is
something that we activate constantly every night we show films on the...
[00:09:42.920]Garth W Johnson: and videos by artists on the side of the building and
this has become one of the focal points of a resurgent downtown Syracuse.
This is of course, a more accurate picture of what the Everson looks like right now.
You can see our beautiful Henry Moore sculpture.
[00:10:01.160]Garth W Johnson: Which is covered in a frosting like coating of snow through our
long, long Syracuse winters when it's great to hole up and look at some art.
[00:10:13.280]Garth W Johnson: And we actually see our highest attendance through the winter,
because people know that they can come and see meaningful arts during
that part of the year.
[00:10:23.120]Garth W Johnson: And here's a picture of the inside of the Everson,
including some of the artwork on display and...
[00:10:32.480]Garth W Johnson: I want everyone to consider that this spiral staircase that
I.M. Pei created, was created in a pre-digital era. All of it worked out with
mathematics and slide rules and...
[00:10:46.120]Garth W Johnson: busy a curve. You can see the beautiful coffered ceiling
on the top, but one of the things that's the most distinctive about the Everson
that sets sets it aside from other brutalist buildings...
[00:10:58.400]Garth W Johnson: Is that I.M. Pei has always had a sense of place and
in an era before, it was...
[00:11:05.000]Garth W Johnson: popular and trendy to do so, he selected a local pink Granite
aggregate that was mixed into the concrete mixture for the building.
[00:11:14.160]Garth W Johnson: In the whole building was cast using wooden concrete molds
and then some poor bastard had to set up these 45 degree jigs and they use a...
[00:11:27.760]Garth W Johnson: Bush hammer, a pneumatic Bush hammer one line at a time
to reveal the pink Granite inside of the aggregate.
[00:11:36.920]Garth W Johnson: So the whole Everson building is covered in this amazing
texture that reveals the warm pink Granite aggregate underneath.
but all of it was done in an incredibly tactile way.
[00:11:47.880]Garth W Johnson: It took a great deal of effort to be able to reveal that texture.
So I like to refer to the everson as artisanal brutalism and i'm going to talk a
little bit about some of the high Labor pieces inside of the Museum
in just a moment.
[00:12:05.560]Garth W Johnson: The second reason why you should be interested in the Everson,
are some of the pioneering activities, the Everson, in fact, has an exhibition up
right now that's a little bit of a victory lap in our 52nd year that looks back at
our history of collecting and our legacy of...
[00:12:23.720]Garth W Johnson: pioneering different programming, so the person was the first
Museum in the United States to have a docent program and
sorry sheldon museum of art...
[00:12:35.600]Garth W Johnson: The Everson was arguably the first Museum in the United States
to declare that they only collected American art and that was in 1911,
and so our collection outside of ceramics is built on the United States.
[00:12:50.520]Garth W Johnson: We were the first museum to host an exhibition by
Joan michell. We put on Yoko Ono's debut museum exhibition with
John Lennon as her guest artist and we'll talk about that near to the
end of my lecture.
[00:13:06.200]Garth W Johnson: We put on the first Maryland mentor exhibition.
We were the first museum to acquire pieces by ceramic artists like
Grayson Perry. We have a 1989 piece from Grayson Perry in our collection.
[00:13:20.320]Garth W Johnson: The Everson was also pioneering when it came to our
work in the field of video, so I think the the portable video camera
with a portable Pack...
[00:13:32.960]Garth W Johnson: Maybe they launched on the market around 1967,
the Everson opened in 1968.
[00:13:42.920]Garth W Johnson: And we hired a permanent full time curator of video
in 1971 and I don't think that MOMA acquired their first video for
their permanent collection until 1979 or around 1980.
[00:14:00.320]Garth W Johnson: The Everson hosted early incredible performance pieces
and video pieces by artists like Nam June paik, and this is, of course,
Nam June pikes performance with Charlotte mormon...
[00:14:12.560]Garth W Johnson: On his video cello and that was performed in the piece,
that the photo that you're seeing is at the Everson museum of art.
[00:14:22.840]Garth W Johnson: But i'm not here to talk about video, i'm not here to talk
about the building, i'm here to talk about the Everson legacy of ceramics
and it's interesting. i'm 47 years old, and I was well-educated by gail Kendall
and Pete Pinnell, and...
[00:14:43.040]Garth W Johnson: I certainly knew about the Everson and learned about some
of the treasures that were contained inside of the Everson in my
[00:14:53.600]Garth W Johnson: i've got to say that right around the time that I was learning
about the Everson, our longtime director Ron Cookta a retired move to
New York City and the leadership that followed Ron Cookta as the director
of the Everson.
[00:15:09.080]Garth W Johnson: weren't on board with ceramics in the way that previous
leadership had been although there were periodic efforts to revive ceramics
and to use the collection, there was never a sustained connection
with ceramics from the MID 90s onward or the late 90s onward.
So a whole generation of...
[00:15:32.880]Garth W Johnson: Artists and connoisseurs, who are younger than I am,
really don't know about the treasures that are lurking inside of the Everson.
[00:15:42.440]Garth W Johnson: And I have to say I don't know that it was in my introduction,
the one failing that Gail and Pete had with my introduction,
is that they did not give my title.
[00:15:50.760]Garth W Johnson: So i'm the Paul Philips insurance Sullivan curator of ceramics
at the Everson, thanks to a $5 million donation from an incredible
[00:16:00.440]Garth W Johnson: My position at the Everson is endowed in perpetuity
and i'm going to introduce you to Paul and Sharon virtually
later on in this conversation so...
[00:16:13.200]Garth W Johnson: let's move on, these are all of course pieces by
Adelaide allsopp Robin Oh, and she is the bedrock upon the Everson
and our ceramics collection.
[00:16:24.960]Garth W Johnson: Actually, on the left hand side of this slide you'll see a tall pot,
that is black and white, this is Adelaide Robin knows funerary
urn, her sinnerary urn.
[00:16:37.280]Garth W Johnson: So she created it for her ashes, and those of her husband
and she passed away in 1929 and she referred to her current cremation
as her last firing.
[00:16:48.920]Garth W Johnson: And Adelaide Robin knows eternal remains are in the
permanent collection of the Everson Museum in the urn that you see
right there and oddly I feel like she was always a little sort of angel or
devil looking over my shoulder and it's a heavy weight for someone...
[00:17:11.120]Garth W Johnson: I think my age, to serve as the fierce guardian of the legacy
of a woman, like her, so Adelaide Robin oh i'm guessing that...
[00:17:20.480]Garth W Johnson: Half of the people watching this are aware of her and her
legacy and half probably are not so i'll give you the cliff notes version.
Adelaide robinho lived and worked and had her ceramifc career in
Syracuse, New York where i'm speaking to you from right now.
[00:17:42.320]Garth W Johnson: She came up as part of a large family like a lot of
women her age, she learned China painting porcelain painting.
[00:17:51.520]Garth W Johnson: Not just as a dainty art for one's free time but she
was not a woman of means and she learned it as a means to support
herself so she supported herself and her large family in part by...
[00:18:05.000]Garth W Johnson: Teaching China painting, which is something that, as
a student gail Kendall actually pushed me to do and I learned China
painting from a group of amazing older women who China painted every
week in a garage in Lincoln.
[00:18:20.120]Garth W Johnson: Adelaide Robinaeu had a fierce desire, as did many
women who shaped the field of ceramics during this time period.
[00:18:27.680]Garth W Johnson: To be able to control every aspect of what they were
making. so in China painting you predict you buy pre made blank pieces
of China generally produced by European manufacturers.
[00:18:39.360]Garth W Johnson: And then you paint your designs on top of the piece of
pre-made super white China.
[00:18:47.120]Garth W Johnson: Adelaide Robinaeu no knew that she wanted to make her
own pots and throw her own pots on the potter's wheel.
[00:18:53.520]Garth W Johnson: In a time that that's just not something that cultured women
did, so in 1901 she pinched her first pot, which is now in the collection of
the metropolitan museum of art.
[00:19:05.840]Garth W Johnson: A pretty incredible little piece of proto Funk art.
and in the 10 years between the pinching of her first porcelain pot..
[00:19:14.840]Garth W Johnson: and her masterpiece, the scarab vase, which i'm going to talk
about in a moment, and that you see right here with her working on.
[00:19:22.160]Garth W Johnson: It was only a 10 year period. Gail, Pete, it's now been almost
25 years since you taught me to throw on the potter's wheel and I couldn't come
anywhere close to the artistry of Adelaide Robinaeu oh seven or eight short years
after she took up the potter's wheel.
[00:19:40.400]Garth W Johnson: Adelaide Robinaeu was not a modest woman, she was almost
a Martha Stewart lifestyle guru of her time.
[00:19:49.720]Garth W Johnson: She founded a magazine called Keramic Studio, which was
the ceramics monthly of its day, it was a center for China painters and ceramic
artists to come. And her audience was mainly....
[00:20:03.520]Garth W Johnson: Conservative China painters, but she was looking to
European design and trying to....
[00:20:10.800]Garth W Johnson: elevate the design discourse among her audience.
Syracuse is also known for one other arts and crafts guru who lived here
and that's Gustaf Stickley.
[00:20:21.280]Garth W Johnson: Stickley, of course, had his own magazine called
The Craftsman, but Adelaide Robinaeu founded Keramic Studio one full year
before Gustav Stickley founded...
[00:20:30.800]Garth W Johnson: His magazine and Adelaide Robinaeu, I think, kept topping
Gustaf stickley in many, many ways, but, of course, being a strong woman
does not get the the acclaim that someone like Gustaf Stickley got. Anyway,
this quote... "Syracuse has at least two boasts.
[00:20:53.720]Garth W Johnson: "There is the salt, which gives it gives it its savor and then
there are the Robinaeu porcelains!"
[00:21:00.800]Garth W Johnson: So throughout her career she made a range of porcelains,
many of them beautiful crystal in modest forms that were meant for people's
homes, but she also spent great amounts of time carving her surfaces and...
[00:21:19.760]Garth W Johnson: doting on the forms that she made. So lots of people on this
call actually know the scarab vase and, by the way.
[00:21:26.800]Garth W Johnson: We just produced a line at the Everson of enamelled scarab
vase pins and they are marvels. I'm going to send some to the ceramics
department to spread around. Gail I need to get one to you.
[00:21:39.640]Garth W Johnson: I mean, I actually zoom out here, so that I can zoom into the
scarab vase. All right, what is special about the scare vase? what makes this the
most famous pot to ever be created in the United States, a few things.
So first of all.
[00:22:01.400]Garth W Johnson: it's porcelain. Porcelain was not a material that any artist
could just walk into a ceramic supply store and purchase.
[00:22:10.240]Garth W Johnson: Adelaide Robinaeu had to write to a French artist named
Taxile Doat who provided, very generously, his formula for porcelain.
[00:22:20.200]Garth W Johnson: Adelaide Robinaeu translated that into materials that she
could acquire in the United States. She mixed it by hand; fine-tuned the formula.
[00:22:31.720]Garth W Johnson: And porcelain's a very finicky material to be able to throw with
on the potter's wheel. The scarab vase is about 18 inches tall, it has a separate lid,
it has a separate...
[00:22:45.280]Garth W Johnson: base that it rests on but this whole thing is hand carved. So
Adelaide Robinaeu threw it on the potter's wheel. It's at least three quarters of
an inch thick.
[00:22:57.800]Garth W Johnson: And then, all of the carving that you see here is elaborate
carving that happened when the scarab vase was bone dry.
[00:23:06.080]Garth W Johnson: So, most of the people on this call has had their hands in clay
at some point. I want to repeat that she did the carving while the scarab base
was bone dry. So she had to work like a careful archaeologist excavating
something. She used surgical scalpels, use knitting needles...
[00:23:25.000]Garth W Johnson: And she could do an area about the size of a nickel in a full day
of sitting and working on the scarab vase because she was afraid of what
would happen if she carved too hard.
[00:23:36.120]Garth W Johnson: Which porcelain has a memory and is very apt to crack.
One wrong move and Adelaide Robinaeu could have carved through the
whole thing; the whole thing could have crumbled.
[00:23:47.680]Garth W Johnson: What I will tell you, and there is no mold making, there's no
trickery here. It's all hand carving and these areas of cartouche are paper thin
and i'll talk a little bit more about sort of what's special there.
[00:24:02.320]Garth W Johnson: it's an incredible piece to behold it's in the Everson's
permanent collection and I invite you to make your pilgrimage to Syracuse to
[00:24:10.760]Garth W Johnson: In front of it and to experience it. This is an experience that
very few people get which is seeing the inside of the scarab vase. So you can see
the translucency of the porcelain, you can see how paper thin the scarab vase
was when Adelaide Robinaeu carved it.
[00:24:28.840]Garth W Johnson: And you can see another remarkable thing about the scarab
vase, which is Adelaide Robinaeu spent 1000 hours carving the scarab vase.
[00:24:39.560]Garth W Johnson: It was very carefully glazed by hand, it was put in the kiln
when it came out of the kiln, there were fairly massive cracks crawling up the
side of the square of base. Rather than throwing a fit, rather than junking the
scarab vase, Adelaide Robinaeu....
[00:24:56.320]Garth W Johnson: Used pre-fired porcelain, cow-signed porcelain, carefully
repaired those pieces and fired it a number of times to get what you see here.
So the side of the scarab vase, the sides are absolutely perfect, but you can see,
when you look at the bottom of the scarab base, teensy tiny cracks.
[00:25:19.040]Garth W Johnson: One of the things that I did with an object study class
that I taught at Syracuse University was to get out an endoscope and anyone
who's had a recent colonoscopy...
[00:25:31.160]Garth W Johnson: I apologize to you for any trauma that you might sort of
[00:25:36.840]Garth W Johnson: But we actually looked with a lighted scope inside of the
scarab vase and we found a couple of interesting things that i've never really
heard anybody speak about and I love talking to Robinaeu scholars about this
so apologize for the shakiness here. Robinaeu was a self taught potter.
[00:25:57.000]Garth W Johnson: You can see the relative regularity of her throwing rings in
the scarab vase, you can see little iron spots in the bottom, which is interesting
[00:26:08.120]Garth W Johnson: You can see, I think, pretty definitively that it was thrown
in two pieces and it was joined right around here. But if anyone can see these
little tiny like white porcelain boogers that sort of dots the inside of the...
[00:26:23.040]Garth W Johnson: The scarab vase, I think these are parts where Adelaide
Robinaeu accidentally barely carved through and they were repaired with wet slip.
[00:26:35.600]Garth W Johnson: So the close examination of pottery can pay off and
I had a great time looking at a couple of pieces over video. We didn't get out the
endoscope with the very talented graduate students and some of the
[00:26:53.040]Garth W Johnson: But this educational mission is something that's near and
dear to my heart.
[00:26:57.720]Garth W Johnson: And you know, from now on I will be continuing to teach
ceramic history classes for Syracuse University students.
[00:27:06.920]Garth W Johnson: Where I will be doing it through actual objects, instead of just
endless slides that are being put up and apologies to any of my incredible
art history teachers, that may have been on the call here.
[00:27:19.040]Garth W Johnson: there's a genre of scarab-based porn I think if you look up
hashtag scarab-based porn, this is not me, by the way.
[00:27:28.040]Garth W Johnson: Ben Peterson is the name of this person that i've connected
with since, but took his picture of him licking the scarab piece, a little bit.
[00:27:36.200]Garth W Johnson: Okay, so ceramic reason number one for loving the Everson.
Adelaide Robinaeu, by the way she created the scarab vase, while she was
teaching at University City in St. Louis.
[00:27:49.680]Garth W Johnson: All of the other faculty were men, all of the other faculty,
received more resources and had more assistance and she was left to translate...
[00:28:00.000]Garth W Johnson: For one of the French artists who was on the staff there. And
she created her masterwork, I think definitively, as a way to push back against
some of the discrimination that she faced as a woman, during this time period.
[00:28:16.280]Garth W Johnson: All right, reason number two for you to love the Everson
ceramic-wise also relates to a very strong female presence at the Everson.
[00:28:24.440]Garth W Johnson: For almost a majority of the Everson and the Syracuse
museum of Fine Arts existence, we have had female leadership. And there was a
director around the time that Adelaide Robinaeu passed away. An incredible
woman named Anna Wetherill Olmsted.
[00:28:48.440]Garth W Johnson: She was a friend of Adelaide Robinaeu, and she was looking
for a way to memorialize Adelaide Robinaeu upon her death in 1929. So
she conceived of...
[00:28:58.680]Garth W Johnson: A ceramic invitational which, in its first year was only open
to artists from New York state.
[00:29:04.720]Garth W Johnson: But that included Alfred University, it included New York City
and really drew wide talents in New York City.
[00:29:12.680]Garth W Johnson: There was instantly a clamor nationwide for Anna Olmsted to
make this an annual event and to open it up to potters throughout the rest of
the country, and so in 1932 the Everson Ceramic nationals was born.
[00:29:29.120]Garth W Johnson: i'm going to...
[00:29:31.000]Garth W Johnson: bring up the full screen here again.
[00:29:34.240]Garth W Johnson: So i'm going to tell you a few important things about the
ceramic nationals. They had very modest beginnings, we still have a very
plucky local board, it is not populated by...
[00:29:47.240]Garth W Johnson: millionaire, billionaire collectors.
[00:29:50.920]Garth W Johnson: And we have incredible artists on our board
Carrie Mae Weems lives in Syracuse and serves on the board of the Everson.
[00:29:58.960]Garth W Johnson: So it's one way that we leverage community, but one of the
board members, when the ceramic nationals was conceived owned a casket
company, so the image that you see here of the first ceramic national,
shows draped forms which are actually...
[00:30:18.040]Garth W Johnson: crates that caskets came in that the person showed some
of these early masterworks on top of so from humble beginnings,
the Everson developed the ceramic nationals.
[00:30:29.600]Garth W Johnson: The Creme de la Creme of artists in the ceramic world fought
with each other to enter their best work possible. They were always judged in
person, by the jurors and there were regional areas where...
[00:30:44.760]Garth W Johnson: Regionally the pottery was judged, then they were sent to the
Everson for final judging and the most incredible thing about the
[00:30:52.600]Garth W Johnson: is a tribute to Anna Olmsted, and that is that they traveled
every year, so the ceramic nationals traveled to between eight and 12 different
venues and those weren't just tiny Community venues and Olmsted traveled
the ceramic nationals to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
[00:31:11.360]Garth W Johnson: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Deyoung
Museum in San Francisco, the Philadelphia Art Museum....
[00:31:20.800]Garth W Johnson: on and on and on. The school of the Art Institute of Chicago
hosted the Ceramic Nationals.
[00:31:27.760]Garth W Johnson: So I can honestly say that the ceramic nationals did more
to raise the profile of ceramics as a...
[00:31:38.120]Garth W Johnson: Discipline, as an art really than anything else, and the
ceramic national started in 1932 and they ended in 1972 as a regular thing.
[00:31:49.640]Garth W Johnson: Another thing that I forgot to mention is when the Everson
acquired its first grouping of Adelaide Robinaeu vessels in 1916, the
Everson did so as fine art...
[00:32:01.760]Garth W Johnson: and not as decorative art, so there were other institutions,
including the Metropolitan Museum that collected pottery at that time.
[00:32:10.160]Garth W Johnson: But never as fine art and I like to say that the art versus craft
debate has been settled law at the Everson since 1916 and I stand by that.
Here are some images of Ceramic Nationals as they sort of gain in...
[00:32:26.240]Garth W Johnson: stature. This is the first one actually on the caskets. Here's
the fifth Ceramic National. Right around this time the Everson took the
ceramic national, international and...
[00:32:39.120]Garth W Johnson: toured it to Denmark, Norway and, I believe, England. And in doing
so, the Everson would acquire pieces for our permanent collection.
[00:32:51.520]Garth W Johnson: And these were the pieces that were loaned out.
[00:32:54.600]Garth W Johnson: I want to point out and give a shout out to anna Olmsted and
the visionary leadership at the time, ceramics was having big conversations
right now about...
[00:33:04.880]Garth W Johnson: access and race and representation and identity, of course,
the Everson could have done even more in this venue. But starting in 1933,
with the first national Ceramic National, the Everson gave one of the highest
awards to Maria Martinez, the Pueblo potter from North...
[00:33:30.120]Garth W Johnson: New Mexico.
[00:33:32.120]Garth W Johnson: At Maria Martinez's insistence, the Everson showed
other South Eastern or South Western indigenous Potters.
[00:33:44.360]Garth W Johnson: We also worked hand in hand with a settlement house for
Mexican immigrants in Chicago called Whole House.
[00:33:50.840]Garth W Johnson: And featured works by the newly arrived Mexican immigrants
in some of the ceramic nationals, there were artists like William Artists
and African American...
[00:34:01.360]Garth W Johnson: Artists that was taught by Augustus savage and part of the
Harlem Renaissance, but he went to Syracuse university participated in the
ceramic nationals, oddly after he went into military service.
[00:34:15.080]Garth W Johnson: He moved to Chadron, Nebraska and became a long time
faculty Member at Chadron State, where, in particular, he mentored a lot of
indigenous artists from the Standing Rock Reservation.
[00:34:29.360]Garth W Johnson: here's some of the ephemera. You can go to the Everson's
website www.everson.org and access an incredible library of our digitized
materials from the ceramic nationals, so if this is a period that you're interested in.
[00:34:44.040]Garth W Johnson: Looking through, I am here and the Everson is here to make
that possible. The ceramic nationals continued through 1972, where Peter Volkas
most famously as the final juror refused to jury the the 500 entries that they got
[00:35:06.920]Garth W Johnson: And he and Robert Turner and an artist named Jeff schlanger
agreed to suspend the ceramic nationals and they created an invitational instead,
but the ceramics nationals were really folded the year following that.
[00:35:23.240]Garth W Johnson: Here's a 1949 ceramic national.
[00:35:27.000]Garth W Johnson: They had incredible...
[00:35:30.320]Garth W Johnson: installations for the ceramic nationals. On the right, you can see,
all of these floating shelves and even a reflective water feature.
[00:35:39.600]Garth W Johnson: here's an article about the last ceramic national in 1972.
We showed early pieces by Jun Kaneko and acquired them in this.
[00:35:50.320]Garth W Johnson: john mason showed one of his...
[00:35:54.440]Garth W Johnson: firebrick sculptures which are a landmark series within
[00:36:01.880]Garth W Johnson: But moving quickly, I want to introduce you to Ronald Kuchta
who stepped into the Everson's leadership role in 1974. Here he is with a piece
that gives you another look at the Adelaide Robinaeu...
[00:36:15.480]Garth W Johnson: urn and sadly Ron Kuchta just passed away.
[00:36:20.360]Garth W Johnson: Several months ago, actually, but not after one last visit we
were able to host him in November, and he came for last visit to the Everson,
even though we knew his health was failing, but he was someone who lived
and breathed ceramics.
[00:36:36.680]Garth W Johnson: One of the greatest gifts that was ever given to me,
Gail Kendall in her office, had a stack of magazines called American Ceramics.
That was a very high-end, thoughtful, critical magazine that Ron Kuchta
published after he left the Everson.
[00:36:54.640]Garth W Johnson: And coming into contact with these magazines changed my life.
And it was amazing to get to express my gratitude to Ron Kuchta in person.
[00:37:04.040]Garth W Johnson: and continuing the ceramic legacy at the Everson is not a light
thing for me, because I feel so inpersonally indebted...
[00:37:13.760]Garth W Johnson: To the things that he did for the field. So one of those things was
conceptualizing an exhibition with Margie Hutto who still teaches at
[00:37:24.440]Garth W Johnson: Very talented sculptor in her own right and, in addition to her
own teaching at Syracuse University, she was the first full time ceramics
curator at the Everson.
[00:37:36.080]Garth W Johnson: So a decision was made to invest money and invest energy
into a replacement for the ceramic nationals and that became a series of
exhibition called New Works in Clay.
[00:37:50.920]Garth W Johnson: Margie Hutto existed at the highest levels of the New York art
world. She was married to a painter who showed at the Pace Gallery at the time.
[00:37:59.240]Garth W Johnson: She was a personal friend of the critic Clement Greenberg and
she had connections to the New York art world so they got a huge grants,
an NEA grants.
[00:38:11.040]Garth W Johnson: They funded and renovated a studio that was a former can
factory here in Syracuse and they invited some of the highest profile artists
from the New York art world.
[00:38:22.920]Garth W Johnson: To come and make a body of work in Syracuse with instruction
and materials and assistance and this became an incredible dialogue from...
[00:38:35.120]Garth W Johnson: You know, high level artists, including the painter
Helen Frankenthaler, who has a landmark piece in the Everson.
[00:38:43.560]Garth W Johnson: Sir Anthony Caro, it was one of the first times that he worked
in ceramics and he kept working in clay, for the rest of his life and bought a
studio in the Hudson Valley.
[00:38:53.760]Garth W Johnson: The painter Billy Al Bengston who had a history with ceramics
did a project with Syracuse China, a series of functional plates and i'm just going
to zip through some of these...
[00:39:05.480]Garth W Johnson: Images, but David Smith had passed away, but had created
works in clay that were showcased here. Larry Coons you know incredible painter.
[00:39:15.960]Garth W Johnson: This absolutely changed the course of his career and the way
that he worked. So here's Margie Hutto with some of her pieces in the can factory
that they renovated.
[00:39:26.400]Garth W Johnson: Here she is more recently with one of the pieces in the Everson's
permanent collection and here is the crew at the Can factory, who worked with
all of these artists. I think they still have this clay mixer at Syracuse University.
[00:39:43.440]Garth W Johnson: This is Jules Olitski, the painter, making one of my very favorite
pieces in the collection, which you can see on the right, in its final fired form. And
you can see it in process on the Left, here's the installed exhibition...
[00:40:00.360]Garth W Johnson: With many of the pieces.
[00:40:03.160]Garth W Johnson: here's the crew and that character in the middle, is actually
Clement Greenberg in his wool-checkered suit and here you can see him
with I think a characteristic...
[00:40:15.800]Garth W Johnson: drink in his hand as he's checking out the work with Margie
in the studio. Helen frankenthaler, oh my God look at this, it had to have been
chilly inside of that factory.
[00:40:27.200]Garth W Johnson: check out her very, very high style hoodie here. The piece on
the right is a piece called Mattress where she's working in her color field mode
with soaking ceramic stains into...
[00:40:42.680]Garth W Johnson: The body of the clay. Interestingly Almost none of the artists
who worked on this project to use glossy glazes in their process. Here's
Larry Poon setting up a room made out of clay that he then you know
festooned with all of these.
[00:41:01.200]Garth W Johnson: sort of grubby pieces of clay and he still works in a similar way,
but using paints. Jewel Salecky and, by the way, the Everson has at least one
[00:41:10.880]Garth W Johnson: Of the work of each of these artists and a big part of my
work recently has been communicating with the estates. We recently got the
Helen Frankenthaler piece into her catalogue resume.
[00:41:23.560]Garth W Johnson: Billy Al Benkston working with the Syracuse China company
on the DEMO toss set that he created.
[00:41:31.440]Garth W Johnson: here's another landmark show curated by Judas Schwartz,
Nine West Coast sculptors and then the landmark show people actually attended
the opening of this show and a symposium...
[00:41:43.000]Garth W Johnson: That was held that had an address, a keynote address by
Clement Greenberg. but the force behind creating a century of ceramics
in the United States was a young Garth Clark...
[00:41:53.640]Garth W Johnson: Who partnered with Margie Hutto. It was widely covered in
the art press. It traveled to at least half a dozen different venues.
Donald Cuspit it gave it and singled out singled out for specific praise
in art in America.
[00:42:09.680]Garth W Johnson: Here is the installation.
[00:42:12.240]Garth W Johnson: here's Clement Greenberg speaking at the symposium. A
young mustachioed garth Clark speaking at the symposium and,
by the way this is hendricks Chapel at...
[00:42:22.200]Garth W Johnson: Syracuse university where Martin Luther King jr gave several
landmark speeches during the civil rights era. Alright so we've got about 15
minutes to catch you up on what the Everson is doing now.
[00:42:37.600]Garth W Johnson: Pete, I might point you someone has their MIC unmuted
right now, and you might put everyone else on mute if you're able to search
out that scofflaw whoever you are you're just making...
[00:42:50.440]Garth W Johnson: Light polite noises right now and...
[00:42:55.160]Garth W Johnson: he's going to silence that that's okay.
[00:42:56.840]Garth W Johnson: Alright, so I mentioned that the Everson has a long history
of strong female leadership.
[00:43:02.720]Garth W Johnson: Our current director who stepped on board six years ago
is Elizabeth Dunbar.
[00:43:08.280]Garth W Johnson: Immediately she looked at the museum and ask the question
why are we not building our programming around the strengths of the museum,
[00:43:18.040]Garth W Johnson: She hired an incredible and very capable contemporary curator
who knew the video collection and coached himself up very well on the ceramics
collection, that's DJ Hillerman, who is now the head of the Savannah College of Art
[00:43:33.960]Garth W Johnson: Entire museum and gallery operation.
[00:43:40.160]Garth W Johnson: And here are the incredible donors. So she set in motion a chain
of events so anyone aspiring to leadership in the museum world would do well to
sort of listen to this.
[00:43:53.240]Garth W Johnson: She reinstituted the strengths of the museum very quickly to
donors Paul Phillips and Sharon Sullivan.
[00:44:01.440]Garth W Johnson: he's a Syracuse doctor now retired.
[00:44:05.520]Garth W Johnson: stepped up and donated $5 million to renovate the
ceramics gallery to endow my position and to endow a future study Center
which we're in the process of planning right now...
[00:44:17.640]Garth W Johnson: where you can view and study, a good chunk of the Everson's
collection in the background, you see the Christina cordova sculpture. That was
my first sort of flag planted on the mountain top in terms of diversifying the
collection and acquiring work by emerging artists of color.
[00:44:38.560]Garth W Johnson: Christina being absolutely one of them, and the person has
recently been in the news, you may have heard about the Everson...
[00:44:46.880]Garth W Johnson: deciding to deaccession a Jackson pollock painting in
our collection, this is a scathing article in The Wall Street Journal.
[00:44:57.520]Garth W Johnson: That revealingly was written by their theater critic and he says
that the Everson was selling its soul, because...
[00:45:05.080]Garth W Johnson: This Jackson pollock painting, which by the way, it's an early
drip painting but it's about an 18 inch tiny painting that was exhibited for about
15 years straight in the museum when they didn't change our permanent
[00:45:21.720]Garth W Johnson: No one noticed it, I would say that this Jackson pollock
painting, which came to the Museum in 1990 doesn't even rank in the
top 20 beloved pieces in our collection.
[00:45:34.640]Garth W Johnson: It is in Jackson pollock's catalog resume but it's never been
requested for travel and a traveling show. No scholars have even...
[00:45:45.000]Garth W Johnson: requested to visit it and I was telling the students earlier today
that we have a cookie jar...
[00:45:50.480]Garth W Johnson: In our collection from 1938 that has been requested for more
scholars and has been in way more exhibitions than this Jackson pollock painting.
[00:45:59.080]Garth W Johnson: In any case, the everson deaccessioned it, it fetch $12 million
at christie's last fall and is going into a permanent endowment that will pay out
[00:46:11.160]Garth W Johnson: So that the Everson can buy works by artists of color and build
our contemporary collection for ever, thanks to the deaccession of this one piece.
[00:46:24.200]Garth W Johnson: There has been blowback but all of it by older white male
critics. I would love to have more discussions with this if anybody wants to, but
the sale of this painting, which was not a beloved core piece that people travel
to is now being harnessed for good.
[00:46:45.920]Garth W Johnson: Here are a couple of the pieces that recently have come into
the collection and will be highlighted in an upcoming exhibition built around
an incredible Carrie Mae Weems piece in our collection.
This is Courtney Leonard one of the most talented...
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