My craft-based art proposal for the Western Showcase

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Showcase_Craft-Area_Overview_2014_July (1024x683)

Yesterday, I talked about Yvonne Mullock’s hooked rug and its unveiling at the Esker Foundation.

In that post I indicated that I wanted to continue this discussion as it relates to the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase. This also is a continuation of my previous post from about a week ago that relates to the Artist Ranch Project.

As any reader of this blog can easily figure out I have shown my current minor obsession on craft as art. I am interested (and have been for quite some time) in the dialogue between, at what point does craft end and fine art begin.

* * *

There are all sorts of issues surrounding this dialogue such as, but not limited to:

  1. the necessity of artists to perfect their craft;
  2. craft as a viable medium for artists to explore;
  3. what role art can have in craft production;
  4. the role of language and the use of the term “craft” in art; and
  5. does the term “craft” actually inhibit growth and dialogue in art production and collections.

With this out of the way and as background to this discussion, I can now move forward.

* * *

In my blog post from last Friday (see link provided above), I proposed that the Stampede seriously consider working collaboratively with the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton in the Western Showcase.

In my opinion, this could be a very good collaboration as the Alberta Craft Council has connections to a significant number of professional craftspersons active in Alberta (and being a provincial organization would be involved in networks nationally and internationally); has a large exhibition space with active programming in Edmonton; and has explored possibilities over the past number of years with intent to set up a separate location in Calgary as well. For whatever reason none of those attempts to set up a space in Calgary has come to fruition. Things now seem to be moving forward as they have a soft agreement in place that they will occupy a space of some sort in the new King Edward School arts incubator that cSPACE Projects is moving forward on. It will probably be ready for occupancy barring any delays sometime in 2016.

Overview of the two organizations:

From its website Alberta Craft Council is described as follows:

The Alberta Craft Council is the Provincial Arts Service Organization that develops, promotes and advocates for fine craft in Alberta. Since 1980, the ACC has promoted craft in Alberta through exhibitions, publications, marketing ventures, education, awareness projects and information services to its membership and to the general public. The ACC has a dual role: to support contemporary and heritage crafts as significant art forms that contribute to Alberta’s culture; and to develop a craft sector of creative, skilled, viable and sustainable craftspeople, studio, businesses and networks.

Now the Stampede. The Western Showcase component has been described on their website as follows:

Western Showcase is recognized as one of the major destination areas of the Stampede. We are a vibrant group of nearly 200 volunteers showcasing our Western Heritage and Values. Western Showcase, located in Halls D and E of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, showcases art, entertainment, presentations and exhibitions that depict our Western Lifestyle.

It would appear that this is how the two organizations envision themselves and what they do.

Now to expand my argument for this proposal:

In a previous post, I indicated in passing that that there is a Western Lifestyles Creative Arts & Crafts Competition. I didn’t call it by that name at that time, but this is what it actually is called. They have 14 categories in which competitions are held.

They are listed below, and I have only included the open division, which most adults would compete in. They are: 1.) knitting; 2.) crocheting & tatting; 3.) needlework & stitchery; 4.) quilting; 5.) paper crafts & calligraphy; 6.) assorted handicrafts; 7.) ceramics & decorative painting; 8.) rugs & weaving; 9.) wood working; 10.) dolls & toys; 11.) framed paintings; 12.) framed drawings; 13.) sugar art & cake decorating; and 14.) eco art.

As one can see from the list above many of these categories lie parallel to many professional artist’s practice. With blurring of boundaries in contemporary visual art practice and production, it is a fair assumption to say that all of the categories above are fair game for most artists to explore.

With that in mind, I thought it is worth investigating the rules for the competition. In the 2014 booklet containing the rules & regulations of this competition, I could only find one section (the last one) which addresses the inclusion of a professional artist or artisan from participating. It is as follows:

19. Participants in the Western Art Show will not be allowed to enter pieces for competition in the Creative Arts and Crafts Competition. . .

In my eyes, this would seem to be a fair rule. Here are some photo selections from the competition that are relevant:

Calgary_Stampede_Rugs_Section_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Window_Display_July_2014 (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Moving on to the Sales Salons

As I was wandering through the sales salon I very surprised to see some large ceramic vessels in one of the booths. I have included a photo of the booth and it shows work by Robert Behr from Montana who from his website, appears to travel the circuit of other festival events similar to the Western Showcase in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

From this it would appear as if craft is not an issue in the Sales Salon and as a comment made by Sherri Zickefoose yesterday on a previous post (see link above) she indicated that this may be due to no other artists applying. This is a reasonable assumption to make.

Robert_Behr_booth_at_Calgary_Stampede_July_2014 (1024x683)

Moving on to the Art Auction

I have attended many of these sales over the years. Although I don’t have the catalogues close at hand to reference, however I do have them available should I need to. I do not recall seeing any craft included into the sale. Having said that there is this interesting thing that sometimes happens prior to the sale where they have a Quickdraw event. I can`t remember what it is called. As part of that in the past I recall seeing a sculptor on more than one year working with clay to create a sculpture. I can’t remember what they do with it, but I suspect it is either sold or cast at a later date.

Unfortunately I am unable to attend tonight as the job that I once was working full-time at has now cut my hours to only six hours a week over two days. As a result I am looking for new work. However, the hours that I must work this week are the exact same hours as the auction, tonight. I can`t even get a photo if they do something like this tonight.

Further to this, some time ago (I could be corrected, but I believe it was held between 2007-2010) there was an auction called Pavilion: Contemporary Art Auction. I attended all the sales and have the catalogues somewhere. It was held in September in the Victoria Pavilion in the old Agricultural Building. It was held in cooperation with Christie’s (the auction house) and eight commercial galleries – Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Masters Gallery Ltd., Newzones, Paul Kuhn Gallery, Skew Gallery, Susan Whitney Gallery, TrépanierBaer Contemporary Art and Virginia Christopher Fine Art.

During the 2008 sale one of the pieces was a work by Shary Boyle. She is kind of a big deal as she the following year won the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2009 and later went on to represent Canada in the Venice Biennale in 2013. The piece which was specifically commissioned for this sale was described by Nancy Tousley in the Calgary Herald as follows:

(Shary Boyle`s work) is represented in the Pavilion catalogue by a lace-draped porcelain figurine of a woman, with a bloody stump of a neck. She daintily holds her severed head in her lady-figurine hands.

It sold for $12,000.

Unfortunately the Pavilion sale was not to be, and only three sales were conducted. It was subsequently cancelled on the eve of the fourth annual sale. In this sale there was a definite interest in exploring contemporary art and new media, including craft-based work.

Moving on the Artist Ranch Project

Instead of repeating myself I would suggest that if the reader is interested in reading more, to visit my previous post (see link provided at the top).

However to add to this discussion I have included an image of a work by Wanda Ellerback from this year`s iteration of the Artist Ranch Project for reference. Here she is creating a work that uses craft, while creating a fine art object.

Wanda_Ellerback_sculpture_for_Stampede_Artist_Ranch_Project_2014 (1024x683)

 

The Guilds and Cabins

In the Western Showcase is a cabin which is daily staffed with volunteer members of various guilds. One of the guilds is the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts. Here they show how the crafts that they work with are done. Sometimes, depending on the guild, they will show children and other interested parties how to do these crafts. This is part of an educational initiative to keep these skills from becoming obsolete. It also harkens back to pioneer culture and especially as it relates to women as many of these activities are of a domestic nature or things that have relevance inside the home.

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Lifestyles_List_of_Participating_Guilds_2014_July (1024x683)

In my most recent post from yesterday, I mentioned work by Yvonne Mullock and the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts (see link provided at the top of this post). It will become readily obvious why I wanted to include them in this dialogue.

They produced a large hooked rug for the Esker Foundation. It is now currently being shown in the gallery as art.

As an aside the current exhibition at the Esker is very interesting and in the context of this discussion should be seen by all members of the Western Showcase Committee. Two artists, Beth Stuart and Cynthia Girard (who worked in collaboration with artists David Altmejd, Julie Doucet, Groupe d`action en cinéma Épopée, Henry Kleine and Noémi McComber) who produced work that uses a number of craft-based media in the work that is on display (I think immediately of quilts, needlework and eco art). Not only that it is presented in such a way that it could almost be dropped right into the middle of the Western Showcase and look like it was intended to be there. If it was to be included, it would certainly create an active discussion. But I digress.

Yesterday, I walked past The Women’s Centre. As I passed, I was invited in to enjoy a Stampede Lunch and BBQ by a lady standing on the step outside the main doors. Once I was in the space I noticed a number of quilts hanging on the walls surrounding the office. This then gave me the opportunity to talk to one of the staff members and inquire if these were any connection to the quilts that I had seen in a window display at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts a couple months earlier. It was not the case, but it was an enlightening conversation nevertheless.

The quilts I referenced were made as a collaboration with some women that took part in a workshop connected to The Women’s Centre in cooperation with two artists (Cat Schick and Linda Hawke) connected to This is My City Art Society.

This project was a very fascinating collaboration. With the assistance of a Calgary 2012 grant the two artists led a workshop at The Women’s Centre, which answers calls to approximately 60,000 calls annually for basic needs from clients, the vast majority who are dealing with issues of poverty. This workshop was based on the theme of sleep and dreams and it is possible to read more about it here. Much of the work that was included was very powerful. I have included two small details from two separate quilts included in this art exhibition for reference below. Like the other collaboration that I have mentioned above (the Esker collaboration) The Women`s Centre collaboration, likewise crossed boundaries between untrained people and professional artists.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_one_January_2014 (1024x683)

For reference, the detail text from the above quilt states the following:

Sometimes when I should / be asleep, my mind is wide awake. Things I / need to do tomorrow nag at me, great / burdensome lists of thing, each with its own / list of associated details. On really bad nights / the shadowy corners of my life come into sharp / focus. I think about how I would relive / regrettable moments, fix mistakes. I replay / words I have said and haven’t said to people / alive and dead. My internal temperature / is thrown out of whack and I have too many / covers – then too few. I consider getting up but / usually don’t, afraid I’ll disturb some else’s / sleep.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_two_January_2014 (1024x683)

The detail from the second states the following:

A hawk flew into my dream,

down into my ruined house,

right through walls that weren’t there

and grazed my head.

The bird had a message for me,

but I was protected from

hearing it,

by the orange sunhat,

I wore in those days.

Synopsis and Conclusion

As we can see from the example of The Women’s Centre + This is My City collaboration craft engages viewers and practitioners on a very fundamental and structural level. When one looks at our Western ancestors we know that craft in some cases for survival, comfort or luxury. At some point in each of our family’s existence someone had to know how to darn a pair of socks, make and bead a pair of moccasins, knit a draft snake, hammer out a horseshoe, create a wedding band and set the stone, and make a ceramic plate – or be able to pay someone to do it for them.

We have determined that ALL sections of the Western Showcase have expressed some interest in showing craft as art up to a certain threshold. However there appears to be only very little of it shown at any one time.

There are probably reasons for this. From the vantage point of an interested observer and non-active participant, I would assume that the largest reason for this is a general lack of awareness that craft is a possibility to be shown in the Western Showcase. In other words, for whatever reason, the committee has not connected on some level with this specific audience.

For this reason I proposed that some initiative be created to allow craftspersons to participate in the Western Showcase. The province (and by extension, the larger region of Western Canada and the Northwestern USA) have some significant and important centres of craft production. This is a perfect venue to showcase this important cultural legacy.

The Stampede as a larger entity, has also shown that they are open to cooperative initiatives. I think of the partnerships that they have formed with corporate entities in terms of naming rights and funding for things such as the SAM Centre, the Youth Campus and its partnership with the Calgary Arts Academy along with the new Enmax partnership to relocate the Indian Village.

The Alberta Craft Council has also shown the same. About a month ago the ACC followed the lead of other organizations such as Stride, Truck, The New Gallery, Marion Nicoll Gallery, Untitled Art Society and the Alberta Printmakers Society in having a window in the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts. This is a new, purpose-built space that was constructed in the +15 corridor along with another newly built space for the University of Calgary Department of Art students between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre. In this space the ACC, like the others, have begun regular programming of craft-based, fine art or installation-based artwork rotating on a monthly schedule.

In the local area there are isolated pockets of support for craft-based artwork. Unfortunately much of these opportunities are geared more to selling of pots and functional craft, with occasional art-based opportunities available outside of this narrow focus.

What I would like to propose is something like the Artist Ranch Project which I think is an amazing project. Like this, I would propose a thematic residency of some sort. The Western Showcase I propose to work in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Council to develop a new concept that will benefit artists and artisans who are interested in exploring craft-based opportunities further with a show at the end during the ten-days of Stampede.

I have no idea how this should unfold, but I would be very interested in seeing something like this happen. I am also very excited about what it could look like.

I have done my part, now I am passing off the baton to someone else, whoever that may be.

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