Gallery Reboot: Domestic Affairs

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

The museum’s newly reinstalled collection emphasizes connections between historical and contemporary art. Organized by the themes of the body, nature, domesticity, fabrication, and herstory, each gallery delves into a topic explored by women artists through time and around the world.

The domestic sphere, with its daily activities and feminine associations, serves as a rich source of inspiration for many women artists. They draw subjects and materials from the domestic realm in order to uphold—or upend—cultural traditions, gender roles, and boundaries between art and craft.

Beatrice Wood (1893–1998), known as the “Mama of Dada,” gained renown for her luminous luster-glaze ceramics. Wood discovered pottery classes in the 1930s, when she wanted a matching teapot for a set of teacups from the Netherlands. Her work in ceramics and in creating a signature luster glaze earned her acclaim. Her works were featured in many solo museum exhibitions and fetched high prices at auction. Wood crafted Gold Chalice (1985) when she was 92 years old.

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Prayer), 2005; Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Angela Strassheim

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Prayer), 2005; Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Angela Strassheim

American photographer Angela Strassheim (b. 1969) portrays suburban life in the American Midwest, while making references to religion and art history. Strassheim was raised in Iowa to a born-again Christian family, whose beliefs she denounced as a teenager. Her photographs’ Christian undertones are presented matter-of-factly, but there is often an unsettling quality to the work. Strassheim’s background in forensic photography also informs her calculated compositions. Her works display recognizable scenes from daily life, but suggest that there is more than meets the eye in family life.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Apron, 1997; Cedar, stain, and graphite, 46 x 28 x 12 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Tony Podesta Collection; © Ursula von Rydingsvard

Sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard (b. 1942) often take the form of domestic objects, such as Apron (1997). The artist’s medium of choice has been cedar for more than 35 years. Apron represents a traditionally feminine object wrought in a traditionally masculine medium. Like Strassheim, von Rydingsvard uses her family history as inspiration. The subject matter and medium are all carefully chosen. Household objects became dear to the artist when she moved around refugee camps with her family in Europe during and after World War II. In addition, aprons are a symbol of domesticity and comfort in many cultures. 

Women artists explore the theme of domestic affairs in various, unexpected ways. Visit the museum to see these works in the third floor galleries. Can’t visit in person? Browse #GalleryReboot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more collection highlights.

—Meghan Masius was the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Polished Pathmakers

Dynamic women designers and artists from the mid-20th century and today create innovative designs, maintain craft traditions, and incorporate new aesthetics into fine art in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each week, compare and draw parallels between works on view in Pathmakers and NMWA collection favorites.

On view in Pathmakers

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled #10, 1995

Odundo’s earthenware vessel Untitled #10 is on view at NMWA. Characteristic of Odundo’s ceramics, the work in Pathmakers incorporates a bulbous shape, an elegant, elongated neck, and an upturned mouth. Although her works are born out of deeply rooted traditional processes, Odundo’s sleek, evocative works are truly modern creations.

PR-Permission_Magdalene-Odundo

Magdalene Odundo; Photo: Scott Allen, Courtesy of Magdalene Odundo

Who made it?

The artistic practice of Magdalene Odundo (b. 1950, Nairobi, Kenya) draws from an array of cultural traditions. She began her artistic career in Kenya and studied pottery in England, receiving a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London. Through traveling, Odundo adopted indigenous ceramic techniques from master potters in Kenya and West African traditions in Nigeria. She was also greatly influenced by Pueblo potters’ blackware in the American Southwest. Odundo works and resides in London.

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled #10, 1995; Earthenware, 21 1/4 x 12 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1996, Louis Bamberger Bequest Fund 96.29; Photo by Richard Goodbody

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled #10, 1995; Earthenware, 21 1/4 x 12 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the Newark Museum, Purchase 1996, Louis Bamberger Bequest Fund 96.29; Photo by Richard Goodbody

How was it made?

Many of Odundo’s works are reminiscent of the human form. Small adjustments in her clay vessels have a dramatic impact on each work’s overall aesthetic—seen in the slight bend in the neck of Untitled #10. Rather than throwing on a wheel, she uses a hand-coiling method—a practice used worldwide for thousands of years. After stacking clay coils on top of one another, she pulls the clay upward, scraping the coils into smooth structures while hollowing out the bodies. She then burnishes each surface to a high sheen. The most transformative step in Odundo’s process occurs during firing. Many of her works, including Untitled #10, have a black, smoky finish as a result of oxidization during firing. Works such as Untitled #10 are so labor-intensive that she creates only a few each year.

Collection Connection

In NMWA’s collection, Gold Chalice (1985) by Beatrice Wood (1893–1998) is also a polished ceramic vessel. In iridescent shades of gold, pink, and purple, this work seems exuberant. The vessel’s luster glaze heightens its curvilinear surfaces. Additional ornamentation consisting of multiple looped handles and circular knobs may allude to the ceremonial function of a chalice.

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

Wood was renowned for gleaming lusterware objects—produced from metallic salts on the glaze’s surface. Devoted to experimentation and exploration, Wood often tossed chemicals (including mothballs) into her kiln to influence the effects of firing. Wood created Gold Chalice when she was 92 years old. After careers as an actress and Dada artist, Wood became a studio potter. Wood worked in Ojai, California, from 1947 until her death at age 105.

Visit the museum and explore Pathmakers, on view through February 28, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.