Critics’ Picks

Betty Feves, Garden Wall, 1979, three stoneware constructions on wooden bases, each 58 x 25 x 15".


Betty Feves

Museum of Contemporary Craft
724 NW Davis Street
March 15–July 28

Curated by MOCC director Namita Gupta Wiggers, this sumptuous retrospective elucidates the life and work of ceramicist Betty Feves. Feves spent her adult life in the arid, clay-rich landscape of eastern Oregon, and she created a wide array of functional objects and sculptural installations expressing her humanistic sensitivity for, and curiosity about, natural forms and processes such as polychromic sediment strata and rock erosion.

In Plate with Five Figures, 1960, the interior of a rounded shallow vessel contains a group of totemic human figures, each possessing distinctive gestural markings. As in most of Feves’s work, like forms are assembled and integrated by means of undulating transitions—syncopated color and texture both differentiate and cohere the artist’s sloping, rocklike formations. The larger outdoor work Garden Wall, 1979, comprises ascending blocks of glazed and textured stoneware that bear a meaningful resemblance to the work of sculptor Louise Nevelson. But whereas Nevelson’s sharp-edged architectural constructions express urban, literary concerns, Feves’s facades of bleeding oxide exude the spiritual pathos of geologic time, conjuring a prehistoric vision.

The exhibition goes beyond a presentation of Feves’s body of work, illuminating and educating the viewer about experimentation in traditional ceramic techniques. Feves became a highly skilled raku potter with the help of American raku pioneer Hal Riegger, and she regularly hosted firings on her front lawn. In a memoir by Riegger, included in the show, he describes Feves’s tireless exploration of materials as a form of her fellowship with the natural environment––she experimented with decayed basalt, stream silt, pumice, and dried grasses. One of the many treasures on view is a group of raku bonfire pots that Feves created in 1981, four years before her death. Their nuances embody the imperfections of a lifetime.