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Museum of Motherhood

M.o.M. Guest Blogger – Courtney Lee Weida

Dear readers,

For my first blog posts with the Museum of Motherhood, I have adapted a few
excerpts from my paper presentation at the M.O.M.  Conference of 2010:
http://www.motherhoodmuseum.org/MOMConference4.html

Challenging Births in Clay: Images and Symbols of the Mother in Contemporary
Ceramics – Part I
By Courtney Weida

Historical Threads of Mothering in Ceramics

One might be tempted to consider themes, symbols, and images of motherhood
within art history primarily through such iconic two-dimensional works as
Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” paintings of mothers and children by Mary
Cassatt, or Frida Kahlo’s surrealist paintings of birthing and mythic mother
goddesses.  However, many works of ceramic art also address motherhood, not only
through formal imagery, but also within complex responses to the generative and
earthy media itself.  Ceramics as an art form offers women makers a
contradictory legacy. On the one hand, literature from art history suggests that
women were the first makers of clay objects (perhaps the mothers of this art
form) and that females are often linked with nature, earth, and domesticity or
the home (features commonly linked with clay as a material). However, women’s
exclusion from glaze chemistry and technologies, credit and profit for their own
ceramic work, and recognition as leaders of the field of studio ceramics within
the American Art Pottery Movement and elsewhere suggests a certain
disinheritance of women in ceramics.

Texts such as Emmanuel Cooper’s (1972) history of pottery continually referred
to early potters as unnamed “women” until the advent of the pottery wheel, at
which point mention of gender is missing and the vast majority of named ceramic
artists are male.  Exhibitions such as “A Secret History of Clay” offer a
predominantly male roster of artists, including Paul Gauguin, Thorvald
Bindesboll, George Ohr, Joan Miro, and Jeff Koons; with very few women (e.g.
Cindy Sherman) among the history of famed painters and sculptors who also worked
within the clay medium.  Art historical sources seems to affirm that gender
usually pertains to the female in terms of pottery (for gender itself is only
specified when not male), and that the female gender as an identifying factor
takes the place of other aspects of identity, for nameless women are continually
referenced with no other identifying characteristics.

I am interested in themes of motherhood within specific examples of art and
artists, and within individual processes of creating, using, and interpreting
clay works. The concept of motherhood as a theme of clay work (due to
historically matrilinear traditions of learning the craft) accompanies a variety
of images and symbols that relate to mothers.  These images and symbols can be
explored in the context women’s writings and artworks interpreting various
influences of motherhood on their work.  I also explore difficulties of
mothering processes in ceramics as limiting, alienating or othering.  I am
compelled by processes of ceramics that  Tsehai Johnson (2007) describes as
“explor[ations] on a poetic level . . .  [of] mixed feelings towards . . .
art-making and motherhood.”

*Please feel free to comment or send correspondence to clw2108@columbia.edu.
More about Courtney can be found here:
http://sites.google.com/site/courtneyleeweidaresearch/

Lee

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