Generations: Betty Feves / Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, Oregon, USA
March 15 – July 28, 2012
First retrospective of work by important Northwest Artist
Curated by Namita Gupta Wiggers
The capstone exhibition of Museum of Contemporary Craft’s 75th Anniversary Year, Generations: Betty Feves is a comprehensive retrospective of work by this important Northwest Modernist ceramic artist. Opened in March 15, 2012, the exhibition includes work from every period of her 40-year career which began with studies under Clyfford Still and Alexander Archipenko, included studies in New York City during World War II, and later, decades in Pendleton, Oregon.
Feves was nationally engaged and regionally focused. She spoke at the first conference of the American Craftsmen’s Council (now the American Craft Council) at Asilomar, California in 1957 along with Peter Voulkos and Marguerite Wildenhain. At the same time she was deeply inspired by the Oregon landscape; rounded stone and basalt slab forms repeatedly found their way into her pieces. And Feves relentlessly experimented with materials and processes. She dug her own clays from locations like Oregon’s Dead Man’s Pass, sometimes mixing them with brick clay from LaGrande. And she created all of her own glazes from local sources such as grasses and the leaves of locust trees in her own backyard. “Decayed basalt, as she called it, became a routine ingredient in the clay mixture she used for sculpture, giving a texture and quality of color quite unlike any other,” says American raku pioneer Hal Reigger who collaborated with Feves beginning in the 1950s. “I believe one could look at just a small section of the surface of one of her things and know right off who made it.” With Reigger, Feves explored what they called primitive techniques including bonfire firings. Reigger was among those who praised Feves for her structural innovations in her large-scale Modernist sculptures.
Additionally, Feves was an important catalyst in her community, quietly mentoring and guiding scores of individual artists and musicians while she publicly advocated for the arts as a longtime member of the Pendleton School Board and while serving on the state’s Board of Higher Education. Feves helped to bring the Suzuki violin method to Oregon and to the Pendleton schools and gave private lessons to generations of young musicians. She took on a number of apprentices, but also reached out to younger artists like well-known Northwest painter James Lavadour, introducing him and his work to collectors and dealers. “Betty illustrated to me what an artist’s role is in a community, what an artist does,” Lavadour says. “An artist doesn’t just make art. An artist serves a community in many different ways.” Lavadour went on to found Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts in Pendleton.