Doctor of Philosophy
Art and Visual Culture
Robertson, Kirsty M.
The field of craft has been dominated by debates surrounding types of objects and material, how-tos, lists, and genealogies, and today there is an increasing turn towards craft theories which do not necessarily address an object. This study brings the object back into craft discourse. “Indisciplined Ceramic Outhouses and Blob-like Glass Bunnies: Four Case Studies on Canadian Prairie Ceramics and Glass” is an object-inspired study of the work and craft-related practices of Victor Cicansky (Saskatchewan), Ione Thorkelsson (Manitoba), Marty Kaufman (Alberta), Altaglass (Alberta), and Mireille Perron (Alberta).
Part one of this dissertation focuses on Cicansky and part two focuses on glass. The second chapter in each part is a resonant response to the first. Chapter one spans Cicansky’s career. Through selected objects and metaphors, it argues Cicansky has always been and continues to be a materially driven craftsperson. Chapter two begins with an absent object and investigates the contributing role of the domestic towards its absence which in turn reframes the understandings of a number of Cicansky’s early ceramic works. In the third chapter, Roger Caillois’ theory of vertiginous play is used to investigate why studio glass blowing developed when it did on the Prairies. This chapter also questions and problematizes the division between studio- and factory-blown glass. The final chapter examines Perron’s exhibition The Anatomy of a Glass Menagerie: Altaglass (Nickle Galleries, Calgary, AB, 2019) in relation to chapter three’s discussions on vertiginous play and to Koen Vanderstukken’s writings on glass and virtuality.
Jules David Prown’s methodological approach to the study of objects—a hybrid of material culture and art history—grounds this study and each object-inspired chapter. Informed by material culture studies and craft theory, the four chapters each adopt an indisciplined line of inquiry by focusing on specific objects, materials, and processes and their associated imposed limits in the context of the rich history of craft, ceramics, and glass. This study provides a framework for examining Prairie craft that moves beyond biography, genealogy, art history, and how-to descriptions as it is discipline specific and object-inspired.
Summary for Lay Audience
In the 1970s in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, ramshackle miniature ceramic outhouses started appearing in group exhibitions and blob-like glass bunnies occupied countless coffee tables. The raucous ceramic sculptures populated with donkeys, food, classical figures, and local characters broke so many of the “rules” associated with well made pottery and ceramics while the kitschy, somewhat old fashioned glass knickknacks were nothing like the spontaneous, organic-looking glass objects coming out of university ceramic departments and newly established glass blowing studios such Ione Thorkelsson’s studio in southern Manitoba. The outhouses were sculpted by Regina Clay ceramist Victor Cicansky who had recently returned to Saskatchewan after completing graduate work at the University of California, Davis, and the glass bunnies were made by the Medicine Hat, Alberta company Altaglass. “Indisciplined Ceramic Outhouses and Blob-like Glass Bunnies: Four Case Studies on Canadian Prairie Ceramics and Glass” closely examines these curious objects and culturally and historically situates them within Canadian craft discourse.
This study examines the work and craft-related practices of Altaglass, Cicansky, Marty Kaufman (Alberta), Mireille Perron (Alberta) and Thorkelsson. Part one reframes Cicansky’s entire career in relation to craft’s ever-evolving definition and argues the importance of the domestic to his early ceramic work. The second part of this dissertation proposes a way to study and approach the history of studio glass blowing that is grounded in the act of blowing itself. This approach makes room for both factory- and studio-made glass within the history of Prairie craft. Objects are brought back into these discourses and histories, and this study provides a framework for examining Prairie craft that moves beyond biography, genealogy, art history, and how-to descriptions as it is discipline specific and object-inspired.
Krueger, Julia, "Indisciplined Ceramic Outhouses and Blob-like Glass Bunnies: Four Case Studies on Canadian Prairie Ceramics and Glass" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7197.