Collection Focus: Mara Superior at RAM

Page 1

Collection Focus: Mara Superior at RAM


(front cover) Figure 1 Mara Superior A Tea House, 1988 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 23 1/4 x 21 x 8 1/8 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

(above) Figure 2 Mara Superior A Tea Party, 1985 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 16 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 3 3/4 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography by Jon Bolton


Collection Focus: Mara Superior at RAM

Contents 3

Collection Focus: Mara Superior at RAM Lena Vigna

9

A Conversation with Mara Superior and Bruce W. Pepich

17

Works by Mara Superior in RAM’s Collection


First Edition Copyright ©2021 Racine Art Museum All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Convention. Except for legitimate excerpts customary in review or scholarly publications, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or information storage or retrieval systems, without written permission of the publisher. Published in the United States by the Racine Art Museum (RAM), 441 Main Street, Racine, WI 53403. Proofreaders: Katherine Berggruen, Lisa Englander, Rebekah Jones, Jean Mandli, Tyler Potter, Lena Vigna, and Kendra Voelz, RAM Designer: Jessica Zalewski, RAM Marketing and Publications Manager Printed in Waukesha, Wisconsin by The SCAN Group Collection Focus: Mara Superior at RAM is published on the occasion of the exhibition Collection Focus: Mara Superior, organized by the Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI, and on view from August 18, 2021 through January 15, 2022. All Photography by John Polak, except where noted. This publication has been supported with major funding from the RDK Foundation. Additional support has been received from the Kohler Foundation, Inc. Racine Art Museum is grateful to the following sponsors: Platinum Sponsors Anonymous Nicholas and Nancy Kurten Windgate Foundation Wisconsin Department of Administration Diamond Sponsors Osborne and Scekic Family Foundation Ruffo Family Foundation Gold Sponsors Anonymous David Charak Tom and Irene Creecy David Flegel Herzfeld Foundation National Endowment for the Arts Racine Community Foundation Trio Foundation of St. Louis W.T. Walker Group, Inc. Wisconsin Arts Board Silver Sponsors A.C. Buhler Family Andis Foundation Lucy G. Feller Ben and Dawn Flegel

Ron and Judith Isaacs Bill Keland Johnson Bank Dorothy MacVicar RDK Foundation Real Racine Twin Disc, Inc. Bronze Sponsors Anonymous Susan Boland Virginia Buhler Educators Credit Union Fredrick and Deborah Ganaway William A. Guenther Tom and Sharon Harty Tony and Andrea Hauser Kohler Foundation, Inc. The Norbell Foundation Bill and Mary Walker Media Sponsors 88Nine Radio Milwaukee Wisconsin Public Radio


Collection Focus: Mara Superior at RAM

Blending past and present day concerns, notions of Americana, and personal experience, Mara Superior playfully both challenges and adds to a history of porcelain decorative objects and tableware. With a singular aesthetic that feels reverent yet unique, Superior builds narratives that unfold through images, words, and form. She has gained attention due, in part, to her work’s approachability. While acknowledging the “feminine” side of her work with choices in content, color palette, and ornament, Superior depicts whatever is impacting her at the moment––never shying from contemporary topics––while pushing the possibilities of her chosen medium. This publication marks a significant moment in Superior’s relationship with the Racine Art Museum. It is produced to coincide with the debut of a multi-piece gift from the Kohler Foundation, Inc. that catapults RAM’s holdings of work by Superior from two pieces, already gifted by other donors, to 33. Now, she is not only a RAM archive artist and the most collected female ceramic artist but also the second most collected ceramic artist regardless of gender. RAM’s holdings of Superior’s work include platters, teapots, vessels, and a collaborative piece with her late husband, sculptor and furniture maker, Roy Superior. Spanning over three decades, from 1982 to 2018, RAM’s collection emphasizes Superior’s personal history—her connection to art and ceramic history, her appreciation for “home” and ideas about the domestic, and her love of travel. While these are not the only topics Superior addresses in her work, they are foundational ones and provide a layered and nuanced accounting of the artist’s approach to working with porcelain. Describing Superior’s work in the terms of its functional inspiration— platters, teapots, vessels—is useful but only marginally evocative of what she produces. Her work is sculptural and always narrative—with that story sometimes weaving in ideas of functionality such as the teapots titled A Tea Party, 1985 (fig 2) and A Tea House, 1988 (fig 1). A Tea Party

Figure 3 Mara Superior Amphora/Continuum, 1986 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, faux marble paint, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 18 5/8 x 24 5/8 x 8 7/8 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography by Jon Bolton

3


(right) Figure 4 Mara Superior Jumbo/The Elephant, 1987 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 15 5/8 inches diameter Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

(opposite) Figure 5 Mara Superior A Black Swan Occurrence/A Rarity (The Great Recession of 2008), 2010 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 15 7/8 inches diameter Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

in particular—with its imagery of a teapot and tea service on one side and a teapot within a teapot on the other—plays with the functional possibility of the objects but also the social possibility of the objects symbolizing people gathering and interacting. Thinking broadly, it could also draw on porcelain’s past as a material connecting history, countries, commerce, and social standing. If read this way, Superior’s work connects to other contemporary artists such as Ann Agee, Christina Antemann, and Roberto Lugo who self-consciously investigate the history of their chosen medium from multiple dimensions. To achieve certain shapes as well as establish her distinct color palette, Superior combines slab building and press molding with underglaze painting and the use of oxides. Her standard iconography involves animal characters, portraits, interior and exterior landscapes, greenery, text, and embellishments such as dot patterns, scrolls, and the suggestion of floral sprigs. The detailed drawings of the elephant in Jumbo/The Elephant, 1987 (fig 4) and the swan in Black Swan Occurrence/A Rarity (The Great Recession of 2008), 2020 (fig 5) are offset by decorative patterns on the former and text on the latter. The patterns and words enhance the realistic portrayals of these animals—offering individualized portraits more than sentimental renderings. Variations occur in details and color but imagery is most often articulated through a palette of green, blue, red, and gold with the white of the porcelain operating both as a substantial color and grounding of the imagery. Superior first studied painting in college as well as some printmaking. The finesse of her line drawing and handling of color–– skills that would have been magnified with those studies––contribute to the distinct character of her work.


To put it simply, Superior brings a multitude of inspirations and influences to her work—illuminated manuscripts, Persian miniatures, classical art and architecture, historical ceramics, Americana, fantasy, needlework, early Renaissance painting, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, to name just a few.1 As her work is frequently autobiographical, content is shaped by both daily and dramatic circumstances. While Superior’s love of travel is reflected in work such as Bella Italia, 2006 (fig 11)—an homage to Italy with depictions of famous scenes and landmarks, a crest, and cuisine, topped with a Mona Lisa—she also contemplates things close to home. While she grew up in an urban environment, the move to the New England countryside has had a profound impact on her. She states of that time: “It was when I was beginning my own home and thinking about, you know, the country life and the beauty of this bucolic area to be in and live in. And I embraced all things. We discovered the Shakers at this time. We were in the country. We were going to antique shops. We were going to antique shows. I got very interested in Americana.”2 While a notion of Americana is not always easy to define, in Superior’s hands, it is evoked in color combinations, patterns, and an emphasis on an idyllic home life. Her platter, A Home Comfort, 1984 (fig 15) evokes a sweet domestic interior with its kitchen replete with a stove adorned with loaves of bread, a blue-and-white coffee pot, pink striped wallpaper, lace curtains, a broom resting against the wall, and a wood-planked floor. The braided rug and—what appear to be—baskets hanging near the stove suggest not just a cozy, intimate interior but one with handmade or vintage touches—the types of things that echo the influences Superior mentions.3 For Superior, the influence of Americana also included historical needlework and samplers. There is a direct connection to those textiles in the combination of imagery and text as well as the formalized layout with pattern as imagery and as border. There is also a connected sensibility in subject matter and in the way samplers reflected everyday life, social and cultural dynamics, politics, economics, and history.4 Another aspect of home life that is articulated in her work are potential intangible associations—intimacy, comfort, and love. Both June, 2016 (fig 9) and The West/Playhouse, 2017 (fig 13) offer home “portraits” with a house situated among trees, flowers, and animals, including rabbits in the yard. Each has visually leading pathways to the front door and, while articulated slightly differently, each suggests a positive, welcoming environment. Love, as an extension of her home and as a universal emotion, is addressed in numerous works. A Swan’s Wedding Day/Mates for Life, 2008 (fig 7) depicts multiple swans, including a centralized pair touching beak to beak. Swans, a species that chooses a mate for life, are significant in Superior’s body of work, showing up repeatedly and a reflection of her broad use of symbol and metaphor.5 A series of collaborative works with her artist husband, Roy, offers another metaphor for love, intimacy, and connection. Pearls Collaborative Cabinet, 2008 (figs 17 and 18) which is comprised of a custom-made cabinet painted in egg tempera by Roy and a stacked piece 5


by Mara—both sea and water-themed—tangibly reflects their layered and loving partnership, as well as their sometimes professional collaboration. Describing herself as “extremely visually-oriented,”6 Superior has long been looking at things, studying them, effectively cataloguing and curating them in her head. A fan of history—art history, decorative object history, cultural history—the artist has also spent many hours in museums, absorbing objects, images, and ideas from various cultures and time periods. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in particular, played a formative role— born and raised in New York City, she was able to visit frequently in her youth. While the information absorbed from museums could be inspirational in many ways, one way it is reflected in her work is in pieces such as Amphora/Continuum, 1984 (fig 3) where object types are offered as subject matter and arranged as collections. Collections, and the idea of them, are significant within Superior’s body of work—as an organizing principle, as an area of interest, and as an ongoing topic. Amphora/Continuum’s imagery—a combination of written dates and both illustrated and miniature examples—presents a visual timeline of shapes and content. Drawn and formed, these elements underscore the notion of a continuum of ideas, the word “continuum” itself being added to the base. This piece illustrates many aspects of Superior’s work—the significance of history, her love and knowledge of the medium, and her compelling style with detailed drawings and text. Amphora/Continuum also illustrates her emphasis on sculptural form, and, notably, her self-conscious yet humble acknowledgment that her work is part of a continuum of ceramic vessels and of her own role within that succession. She states, “I was so excited to be on this path; I used the word ‘continuum,’ as I felt that I was part of this long history from 480 AD in China, to Meissen, to Me.”7 Indeed, it is worthwhile to note that Superior is a part of that continuum in some ways that may not be as obvious as well. Akin to the work of a few stand out makers in the late 1800s and early 1900s—such as Adelaide Alsop Robineau and Mary Chase Perry Stratton—Superior’s work disrupts assumptions about women as merely


(opposite) Figure 6 Mara Superior Afternoon Tea, 1996 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, white gold leaf, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 13 1/2 x 18 x 7 7/8 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

(right) Figure 7 Mara Superior A Swan’s Wedding Day/ Mates for Life, 2007 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, bone, ink, and brass pins; wooden base by Roy Superior 19 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 9 5/8 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

the decorators of porcelain vessels. Reflecting greater societal values and despite there being evidence to the contrary, there was a time when women’s roles within the arts were largely categorized as “superficial” or, at best, secondary. Within modern ceramics, this was exaggerated as hand-painting on ceramic wares—an extension of painting on porcelain or china painting—became a hobby endeavor of middle-class women in North America and Europe. Rather than being celebrated as self expression, it was marginalized as “women’s work.” At the same time, the field of ceramics was given a boost by makers such as Robineau and Perry Stratton who became design and production innovators. While this may seem a removed point for contemporary audiences, it serves to underscore the historical framework in which Superior’s objects and actions reside. Her palette full of soft—almost pastel—colors and decorative embellishments seems traditional— or somehow stereotypically feminine—yet her works upend function and her narratives full of personal and meaningful content remind us that this is a modern artist filtering the world through her own lens. Also, similar to Robineau and Perry Stratton, she is free to make choices about how and what she wants to create and does so forthrightly.

7


Superior, who received a BFA in painting from the University of Connecticut and an MAT in ceramics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has achieved significant recognition in her career—including representation at prestigious craft shows in the earlier days and inclusion in numerous exhibitions. In addition, her work can be found in museum collections across the country including Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, and the White House Collection of American Crafts, Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock, Arkansas. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship and multiple individual artist grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. In 2010, Superior was interviewed for the oral history program of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Arguably, any art object reflects its maker—revealing particular thoughts, skills, and choices. Mara Superior takes it a step further by creating work that is often purposefully self-referential and autobiographical. Reflecting her own experiences as well as the times she lives in, her work charts a personal path that has the capacity to resonate across a larger audience and the themes she addresses are themes of the human condition. With an archive of Superior’s work established, RAM, fortunate in this ability to collect the work of artists in depth, is able to offer a substantial, sustained look at a singular contemporary artist. Lena Vigna Curator of Exhibitions, Racine Art Museum


Bruce W. Pepich: Can you speak about your education and background? What first drew you to porcelain as a medium for personal expression? Why has the medium held your interest through your career? Mara Superior: I am a second-generation Italian American. I come from a very large extended family, with 21 first cousins.

A Conversation with Mara Superior and Bruce W. Pepich

My childhood was culturally rich and visually stimulating. I grew up in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on Glenwood Road and Flatbush Avenue near Brooklyn College. Flatbush Avenue was a bustling street filled with shops, cafés, bakeries, and ice cream parlors. Architecturally, it was an Edward Hopper-type of neighborhood with four-story red brick and brownstone buildings lined up next to each other, some with green painted trim, and businesses on the street level. My parents and I lived upstairs from a butcher shop my grandfather owned. I loved to hang out in the shop, meet and greet customers, and sit on a tall stool at the big wrapping table making drawings on huge sheets of brown wrapping paper. Traveling around the city was like traveling around the world. The sights, sounds, smells, and food of ethnic neighborhoods were very exciting. Chinatown was a particular favorite of mine. My first memory of drawing is coming home from one of our excursions and doing fantasy images with thick, soft, red and black pencils on the wrapping table at Grandpa’s. I drew geishas with kimonos and big black hair shapes decorated with dangling ornaments, set in a tree-filled landscape. My art school education began at Shellbank Junior High School. I was appointed Art Director of our class yearbook by my beloved art teachers Ms. Schwartz and Ms. Lieberman. These two women set me on my path. They sent me to Saturday art classes for talented children at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and they encouraged me to apply to the special art high schools in Manhattan. I went to the High School of Art and Design in the heart of the city, 57th Street and 2nd Avenue. I spent my weekends exploring museums. I lived a few blocks away from the Met, and it was my favorite. It was my cathedral. I visited very frequently and was never in a rush because I could always return. I looked at things carefully, and it was here that I knew that I wanted to make beautiful things. Because it is an encyclopedic museum, there was no differentiation in my mind between fine and decorative arts, although I was beginning to be taught the hierarchy in the system in my art history classes at Art and Design. I felt like the luckiest person alive to have been born in the city with so much art and opportunity. I felt as if I could be an artist and live my dreams if I put my heart and mind to it. Anything was possible. I felt lucky by my birth and privileged to have found my obsession very early on in life. I was formally trained to be a visual artist at the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. There, I was taught about attuned seeing, critical thinking, analytical thinking, and the formal

(opposite) Figure 8 Mara Superior Enchanted Wood/The Wild Side, 1988 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 9 3/8 x 20 5/8 x 4 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography by Jon Bolton

9


Figure 9 Mara Superior June, 2016 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 12 3/4 x 16 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

elements of art. Drawing provided lessons in keen observational skills. I took the prerequisite ceramics class, but nothing drew me into the material. Everyone was throwing stoneware on the wheel, and I had no interest in that. The professor was making conceptual ceramic art by slip-casting potatoes, digging trenches, burying them, photographing the activity, and showing the photographs in the gallery. I learned a lot of formal art theory during that time, which has served me to this day. It is embedded in my thinking. After a few years, I transferred to the University of Connecticut Art School in Storrs, Connecticut. It was a more traditional hands-on art school experience, with a large painting department, a renowned printmaking department, and vast offerings in art history. There I thrived studying painting, etching, and art history. Egyptology captured my attention and imagination. Egyptian painting was a combination of many of the elements of art that I enjoyed most—line, shape, pattern, composition, scale changes, text, symbolism, and ancient mythology narratives. I internalized it. Upon graduation and in my final BFA portfolio, I felt as if I had begun to find my own voice as an artist. My education will never end. I was in art school for 12 years, counting my high school days. I was married to the artist Roy Superior, a Renaissance man and professor of art for 43 years. I consider myself to have earned an honorary PhD in art and the life of an artist. My first job was painting needlepoint canvases for a fancy shop. During this time, I experimented with many materials and took classes in stained glass, sewing, and soft sculpture. I went antiquing at flea markets, fairs, and thrift shops to decorate our apartment in a nineteenth-century three-story brownstone building. Eventually, I landed a job in the Display Department at G. Fox, a grand old department store in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, with Fifth Avenue-type street level windows that were like large-scale dioramas ready for storytelling. I designed themes, sewed props, and, with the help of the carpentry shop, built window displays


promoting the sales of merchandise. It was a combination of art and commerce. A lifelong foodie, I have always seen food as a window into culture, class, and history. I was always admiring the seventeenth-century Dutch Golden Age still-life paintings that celebrate the pleasures of life with food and the beauty of flowers. Displaying opulence, wealth, and power, they metaphorically remind us of life’s impermanence and eventual decay. Memento Mori—enjoy today! With this in mind, I have incorporated food and flowers in themes of my objets d’art over time. In the mid-1970s, Roy accepted a teaching position at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. We bought an 1828 old white clapboard house with a barn and began its renovation. When we moved up to western Massachusetts, I discovered porcelain by chance. While perusing our local newspaper, I saw that the potter Jane Hillman, a fellow New Yorker and a graduate of the ceramics program at Alfred University, was offering a six-week class in handbuilding with porcelain. This was the beginning of a new chapter. I wanted to learn more about this material, so I attended the University of Massachusetts ceramics department for a two-year graduate program. I studied with Susan Parks and Paul Beribe. In 1978, red earthenware and low-fire ceramics were the hot material of the day, but when I first saw reduction-fired porcelain, it was love at first sight! This would be it—no substitutes. All of the experts recommended that I try another lower temperature mid-range porcelain and use the electric kiln to get more consistent results, but no, I have a rebellious spirit and I was going to do it my way— the impractical artist, me. I had found my material, my life’s work. I viewed porcelain as a magical threedimensional canvas that could do so much more than paper. It offered limitless potential and possibilities for creating anything and everything, from the utilitarian to the sculptural.

Figure 10 Mara Superior Winter House, 2004 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 14 x 18 x 1 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

11


It could easily occupy several lifetimes. Porcelain’s exquisite beauty and history was intoxicating to me. I was off and running.

Pepich: How does your undergraduate background in painting impact your sculptural ceramic work and what necessitated your change in media for your work in graduate school? Superior: My undergraduate background in painting shaped who I am as an artist—the way I see and think visually and conceptually. I approached ceramics from a two-dimensional point of view, with platters being canvases. I went back to school specifically to study ceramics after a five-year interim period. I was attracted to porcelain as a painting surface. My preference for slab building, akin to three-dimensional construction paper, is because it is a flat, smooth painting surface. I came with content and imagery in mind. I explored strong shapes and construction methods, and I settled on a boxy construction format which could accommodate curves. I explored flattening iconic ceramic vase and teapot forms. Form and surface were coming together for me, and then I had a new element to work with—texture! Stamping sprigs and modeling were incorporated into the designs.

Pepich: What do you see as the main aesthetic message in your work? Has this changed over time? What subjects have inspired you over the years? Superior: My work is autobiographical. Whatever is at the top of my mind can find its way into my work. It’s a visual diary of my “One Life Story.” Ultimately, my work is about humanity and about being alive as a human being in my time. It’s the life story of my voice in porcelain.

(left) Figure 11 Mara Superior Bella Italia, 2004-2006 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, bone, ink, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 22 1/2 x 18 x 10 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

(opposite) Figure 12 Mara Superior Arbor Vitae/Enchanted Wood, 1993 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, faux marble paint; wooden base made by Roy Superior 12 1/8 x 21 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.


My work has always been celebratory, commemorative, idealistic, uplifting, and beautiful. That hasn’t changed over the years, whether I’m working with romantic or controversial political subject matter. From the start, I set out to make beautiful objects with their “messages” to send out to the world, and I’ve done that. They are precious objects, meant for the joy of observation and calling out for ceremonial placement in the environment. They were never really intended to be utilitarian, although, of course, I use my pieces. A few of the subjects that have inspired me over the years are the history of porcelain and ceramics; history, art history, and mythology; mates for life, romance, big love, and pairs; house, garden, and all things domestic; botanicals and still life; feminism, female icons, and the domestic goddess; food and the history of food; farm animals, pets, and wildlife; love letters to New England architecture, landscape, and sense of place; the sea, fantasy, and aqua vitae (“water of life”); travels, souvenirs, Europe, and museums; music and books; political commentary; the environment; and collections. Now that Biden is in office, I feel that I can get back to my own artistic content—for two years, anyway. There are endless topics of inspiration. I have seven sketchbooks filled with ideas for things that I haven’t made yet. At this point I don’t think about it—I just do it.

Pepich: How do you develop your ideas? Have the potential complications of working with porcelain ever influenced what you make? Superior: An idea might come to me in a mental flash. I make a rough sketch in a sketchbook, and I continue to think about it over time. I come back to it to refine the drawing and think about the details. I make a plan, make a pattern, scale it up to size, and start to roll out slabs of porcelain and carry it through the process of hand building. Porcelain likes very slow drying under light plastic sheets. I then do bisque firing, drawing designs in pencil, painting with underglazes and ceramic oxides, glazing with a ground Cornwall stone glaze, and high firing in a gas-fired reduced oxygen atmospheric kiln. Yes, the complications of working with porcelain have definitely influenced what I make. Porcelain is a challenging material and has many limitations, and there is a lot of loss for the studio artist. You have 13


(above) Figure 13 Mara Superior The West/Playhouse, 2017 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, and gold lustre 11 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

(opposite) Figure 14 Mara Superior The East, 2018 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 12 1/4 x 15 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

to learn to work with it. One must be resilient, stubborn, hopeful, and knowledgeable about what is or might be possible. I’m after the perfect firing, and I keep working toward what is in my mind’s eye. When dealing with a difficult material and the vicissitudes of the kiln firing, the work is always on the edge of unpredictability. It’s a high-risk business. I don’t know anyone that has done what I have done with these exact materials. It’s not because I’m stupid—it’s because I’m stubborn. I do know what is possible, and I’m always after what is in my mind’s eye. When I’m working, I’m seeing the best firing. I'm seeing the copper doing its thing. Sometimes I'm disappointed, because that's a whole other world of things, working on something for months and then putting it in a kiln with unexpected results. Even though you’re trying your best to control the atmosphere, unexpected things might happen during the kiln firing.

Pepich: In working with porcelain, you have engaged with a material that has a complex history. How do you see your work in relation to this history? Superior: With porcelain, the material comes with a world of historical context of its own. I'm interested in working with a clay body with a history attached to it—either porcelain or terracotta. When I'm holding porcelain in my hand, I feel like I have a 1,600-year-old continuing link to the original Chinese porcelains that were developed around 400 AD.


The material and firing method that I have selected—high-fired porcelain in a reduction-fired kiln—refer back to this ancient history and are comparable to what was produced in 400 AD. I am on that continuing timeline, and that's part of the thrill and excitement of working with porcelain. My work is more celebratory than subversive. It’s more commemorative and ritualistic. I think of myself akin to artists like Grayson Perry, Stephen Board from Australia, and Ann Agee, in relation to artists taking on iconic ceramic forms as part of their content, just because it makes sense in terms of self-reference. It’s a logical step for an artist to use the iconic forms, because it connects the dots back to the historical references in the material. Some artists do that, some don’t. When I painted on platters and teapots and so forth, they weren’t intended for utilitarianism. It was more of a conceptual idea to use those forms that are self-referential to the material.

Pepich: You state that aspects of your work have been associated with ideas of the “feminine” but you have not seen that as a hindrance. Can you talk more about that––both what those associations are and your perspective on it? Superior: I feel that there were many pioneering women that came before me who fought that fight. It was never my battle to take on. I have never felt professionally that my gender was any kind of a hindrance. I have always had a female art dealer, which maybe has something to do with it, but in my career, I’ve never felt my gender was a problem. With my choice of materials, my content is sometimes connected to the domestic, but I can also do political, I can do environmental, I can do other things. On a scale from masculine to feminine, I would describe my work as feeling feminine, but that’s just a fact. It’s not a political statement. It’s kind of a non-issue for me.

15


Pepich: RAM’s collection also includes a collaborative work made with your late husband and fellow artist, Roy Superior. How did your two studio practices intersect and how did they operate separately? Superior: Roy’s studio was at our home, and I have my own ceramic studio about 20 minutes away from where I live. While our studios were separated, we were each other’s closest confidant, critic, and advisor. I enjoyed talking to him about my work more than he needed or enjoyed talking to me about his. He kind of liked keeping things to himself. The idea of us doing a collaboration came from the fact that he had already made furniture and cabinets for us. It seemed like a natural evolution for him to help me expand a theme and enlarge an idea by creating an environment for one of my sculptures. I would talk to him about it and try to get him excited about the idea, though he might have preferred to be working on one of his own pieces. But since I’m such a good cook and have such powers of persuasion, I would get him on board with the idea and we'd get together on a theme. “Underwater” was always a very good theme for Roy because he was a fanatical fly fisherman and he loved all water—streams, rivers, and the ocean. If it had to do with fish, he was usually on board, so most of our collaborative cabinets were about the sea. Our collaborations were true “Labors of Love” on Roy’s part. Bruce W. Pepich Executive Director and Curator of Collections Racine Art Museum

Please note: This is part of a longer interview that has been edited, with the artist’s approval, to fit this space. Angelina Fina wrote a review of Mara Superior’s work for Volume 7, Number 2, 1989, of the publication American Ceramics. Superior highly values Fina’s understanding of her self-referential art about ceramics and also the author’s ability to explain what her work is about. The full Pepich-Superior interview and the text from Fina’s review can be found on the RAM website, ramart.org, in the Exhibitions section.


All works English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes, except where noted. All works Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc., except where noted.

A Home Comfort, 1982 12 inches diameter A Tea Party, 1985 16 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 3 3/4 inches Amphora/Continuum, 1986 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, faux marble paint, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 18 5/8 x 24 5/8 x 8 7/8 inches A Tea Party Collection, 1987 12 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 1 inches

Day Dreamings, 1987 12 3/8 inches diameter Racine Art Museum, Gift of Karen Johnson Boyd

Works by Mara Superior in RAM’s Collection

Jumbo/The Elephant, 1987 15 5/8 inches diameter A Tea House, 1988 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 23 1/4 x 21 x 8 1/8 inches Enchanted Wood/ The Wild Side, 1988 9 3/8 x 20 5/8 x 4 1/2 inches

(opposite) Figure 15 Mara Superior A Home Comfort, 1982 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 12 inches diameter Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

l(eft) Figure 16 Mara Superior My Forest, 1993 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, and underglazes 15 1/2 x 11 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

17


(right) Figure17 Mara and Roy Superior Pearls Collaborative Cabinet, 2008 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, wood, gold leaf, bone, ink, egg tempera, brass pins, mother of pearl, and shells 80 x 38 1/4 x 18 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography by Jon Bolton

(opposite) Figure 18 Mara and Roy Superior Pearls Collaborative Cabinet (detail), 2008 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, wood, gold leaf, bone, ink, egg tempera, brass pins, mother of pearl, and shells 80 x 38 1/4 x 18 1/2 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography by Jon Bolton

A Dream in the Night: Exotica, 1989 21 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 5 1/4 inches Love Birds, 1989 Dimensions for each: 9 x 16 1/2 x 5 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Karen Johnson Boyd

A Hare, 1990 12 3/4 x 18 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches Arbor Vitae/ Enchanted Wood, 1993 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, faux marble paint; wooden base made by Roy Superior 12 1/8 x 21 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches


wooden base made by Roy Superior 19 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 9 5/8 inches Amour, 2008 12 1/2 x 19 3/4 x 2 7/8 inches Mara and Roy Superior Pearls Collaborative Cabinet, 2008 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, wood, gold leaf, bone, ink, egg tempera, brass pins, mother of pearl, and shells 80 x 38 1/4 x 18 1/2 inches A Black Swan Occurrence/ A Rarity (The Great Recession of 2008), 2010 15 7/8 inches diameter Spring/Tree of Life, 2015 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, and gold leaf 10 3/4 x 13 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches Heaven & Earth II, 1993 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, white gold leaf, bone, ink, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 17 1/2 x 13 1/8 x 6 5/8 inches

Pair of Standing Cows: Dorabella & Pot de Crème, 2003 Dimensions: 6 x 12 1/4 x 3 inches and 6 1/4 x 11 1/4 x 2 1/2 inches

My Forest, 1993 15 1/2 x 11 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches

Love Birds/ Sailing the Good Life, 2004 9 3/4 x 20 1/2 x 1 1/8 inches

Afternoon Tea, 1996 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, white gold leaf, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 13 1/2 x 18 x 7 7/8 inches Le Beau Bête, 2002 16 inches diameter A Dream House, 2003 11 1/4 x 12 1/4 x 5 3/4 inches Il Forno, 2003 16 1/8 inches diameter

Peace on Earth, 2003 12 3/4 x 18 3/4 x 1 inches

Winter House, 2004 14 x 18 x 1 1/2 inches Bella Italia, 2004-06 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, bone, ink, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 22 1/2 x 18 x 10 1/2 inches A Swan’s Wedding Day/ Mates for Life, 2007 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, bone, ink, and brass pins;

Americana: A Collection of Blue Salt-glazed Stoneware, 2016 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, salt-glazed stoneware, and cobalt decoration 14 1/2 x 17 3/4 x 1 inches The artist has used her normal media to create the back platter but the miniature pots were made in the same materials as the original pieces they represent. June, 2016 12 3/4 x 16 1/4 x 1 1/4 inches La Vache/Pot de Crème, 2016 16 1/4 inches diameter The West/Playhouse, 2017 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, and gold lustre 11 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches The East, 2018 12 1/4 x 15 3/4 x 1 1/4 inches 19


Endnotes 1. For a more in-depth analysis of iconography and details about Superior’s career, see Bruce W. Pepich’s essay in Mara Superior: A Retrospective. Connecticut: New Britain Museum of American Art, 2006, 7-17. 2. Oral history interview with Mara Superior, July 1-2, 2010, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interviewmara-superior-15890#transcript, (accessed 1 May 2021). 3. The work’s title adorns the border of the plate—with a deliberate misspelling of “comefort” for comfort. This immediately calls to mind its handmade nature but also the type of mistake that becomes memorialized in hobbyist textiles. 4. The connection to samplers was noticed by more than one historian including Angelia Fina, author of a succinct yet evocative review of Superior’s work. Fina’s review can be found in American Ceramics, Volume 7, Number 2, 1989. 5. Oral history interview with Mara Superior, July 1-2, 2010, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. (above) Figure 19 Mara Superior Americana: A Collection of Blue Salt-glazed Stoneware, 2016 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, gold leaf, salt-glazed stoneware, and cobalt decoration 14 1/2 x 17 3/4 x 1 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc.

20

(back inside cover) Figure 20 Mara Superior Heaven & Earth II, 1993 English Grolleg porcelain, Cornwall stone glaze, ceramic oxides, underglazes, white gold leaf, bone, ink, and brass pins; wooden base made by Roy Superior 17 1/2 x 13 1/8 x 6 5/8 inches Racine Art Museum, Gift of Kohler Foundation, Inc. Photography by Jon Bolton


Racine Art Museum 441 Main Street Racine, Wisconsin 53403 262.638.8300 ramart.org


$5.00 ISBN 978-0-9831837-7-8

50500>

9 780983 183778


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.