True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada at the Gardiner Museum
I went to the opening of True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, the new show at the Gardiner Museum, last week.
I was surprised and pleased to see on display a small Deichmann Goofus sgraffito plate I had donated in memory of my best friend Tim Egan, who died of AIDS in the mid 1990s. Tim was the "salt of the earth", a pretty capable potter himself and he is deeply missed. AIDS, like wars past, devastated my generation and he was the best among us. I gave my Deichmann piece to honour my friend and was very moved to see it in the show.
One of the many nice things about Deichmann pottery is that it's normally very clearly signed on the back, making it easy to identify. Once you see the signature or just the DK initials and the NB initial for New Brunswick, it's hard to forget it. Their turquoise glaze is especially pretty.
Deichmann Goofus figurine and pin dish - Gardiner Museum - True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada
Erica and Kjeld were Danish potters who pioneered art pottery in Canada, working in rural New Brunswick. If you drove out to the East Coast between the 1940s and 1960s, you may well have bought something at their studio. They were the subject of two National Film Board documentaries. The Gardiner very cleverly has the 1961 The Story of Peter and the Potter showing; download the pdf study guide to The Story of Peter and the Potter NFB film and also the 1964 Crafts of My Province.
They also had a solo show at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1991. The catalogue for that show is below and is full of wonderful photographs of their work and a detailed examination of their life:
If you want to read more about the Deichmanns and New Brunswick art history, you might enjoy "The Dignity of Every Human Being": New Brunswick Artists and Canadian culture Between the Great Depression and the Cold War".
If you like Canadian ceramics (and who doesn't?), you will be interested in Studio Ceramics in Canada, 1920-2005. Written by the redoubtable Gail Crawford, this was the catalogue from another show at the Gardiner Museum and includes information on the Deichmanns among others. You should also look at On the Table: 100 Years of Functional Ceramics in Canada.
I also found interesting the book Crafting New Traditions: Canadian Innovators and Influences, which includes chapters on the Deichmanns and the Oak Ridges lamp and fiberglass Bostlund family (see the great display at the Gardiner of their lamps lit up). It also has information on jewellery designer and Quaker refugee advocate Nancy Meek Pocock, who has a silver cut-out brooch with hanging birds and gems near the end of the show.
Of course THE source of historical information on Arts and Crafts in Ontario is A Fine Line: Studio Crafts in Ontario from 1930 to the Present by Gail Crawford. She was at the opening and I overheard (eavesdropped?) a man say to her "your book is the most influential in this field". I wholeheartedly agree. A tour de force, well worth a read, but well worth buying as well (I have a copy, thank you Judy Pocock, Nancy's daughter). Beautifully written, it's erudite and engaging as well.
A Fine Line: Studio Crafts in Ontario from 1930 to the Present
There are in-depth, unique sections in the book on Nancy Pocock, metal workers Rudy Renzius and Harold Stacey and many others. For a Ontario (or Toronto) audience, it also really gives a sense of the evolving business and cultural side of studio crafts locally for the past 80 years.
It was Crawford's research and book that helped me identify and place into context metal worker Andrew Fussell's chrome hand-hammered bowl that I own. If I have one tiny regret about the show, notwithstanding the Renzius covered dish, it is the absence of more everyday affordable items in pewter, copper, brass etc. in the early part of the show (and no pieces by Fussell).
It was kind of amazing though to see the Carl Poul Petersen's Bronfman family tea service with samovar from the McCord Museum (see this link for more information about Petersen) and you can open this pdf to see more detailed images and information about this tea service. It makes the memory of buying Seagrams' Seven Crown and Crown Royal in the 1970s a bit sweeter.
I also found very interesting the French language Arts décoratifs et design du Québec: guide de collection, which is especially strong on 1960s-70s plastics (furniture and smalls) and the very intellectually rigorous The Allied Arts: Architecture and Craft in Postwar Canada. Both of these sources have information about fabric artist / weaver Mariette Rousseau–Vermette who has a monumental work on display.
Clearly, I am passionate about this subject, and realize I must write another blog post about the mid-century Scandinavian source material that is available at Toronto Reference Library. At the opening of the True Nordic show, the two curators, Rachel Gotlieb and Michael Prokopow, gave a very interesting talk. Dr Gotlieb spoke about the importance of doing archival library research. Our collection is rich and deep across subjects, time and also languages. But I will leave exploring that to the next blog post.
There was a reference in the curator's talk and in the show of a seminal book and touring show called Design in Scandinavia: An Exhibition of Objects for the Home which covered Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The exhibit visited several American cities, as well as Toronto and Ottawa in the 1950s (two Royal Ontario Museum curators were on the North American organizing committee). The ROM presented this show as part of a conscious policy to support further shows on American and Canadian modern design of the era, as seen by this excerpt from their 1954/55 annual report.
The Toronto Reference Library has a copy of the 1950s Design in Scandinavia exhibition catalogue.
You can read a lovely illustrated review of the show by Stephen Dale of the National Gallery of Canada Magazine here.