Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection highlights important studio objects made from the mid-1960s to the 2000s, with a special focus on the 1960s–1980s, the collection’s great strength. The Eagle Collection offers an extraordinary opportunity for in-depth study of the foundational period of studio craft history as well as a look at how artists active then have transcended historical traditions to create a new paradigm today.
The heart of the Eagle Collection is in ceramics, particularly works made by California-based artists such as Peter Voulkos, Viola Frey, and Stephen de Staebler, who revolutionized the field by advocating a sculptural and abstract aesthetic. Clay art by ceramists like Jack Earl and Betty Woodman will provide an introduction to trends that were developed in other regions of America in the post-war period. The Eagles, who are original members of the Mint affiliate The Founders' Circle, collected selectively in other decorative arts media, homing in on artists who established studio craft as a relevant and dynamic art form. Highlights include furniture by Wendell Castle, abstract wall-hangings by John Garrett, and jewelry and metalwork by Joyce Scott and Earl Pardon. Paintings on paper and drawings by many of the artists, including Peter Voulkos and Viola Frey, broaden the understanding of their aesthetic and creativity. These works on paper are not preparatory but rather works of art in their own right.
Beyond Craft includes approximately 80-90 objects by 50 artists including Ralph Bacerra, Wendell Castle, Ruth Duckworth, Robert Ebendorf, John Garrett, Sam Maloof, Albert Paley, Tom Patti, Joyce Scott, and Takeshi Yasuda, and will include ceramics, fiber art, studio furniture, glass, jewelry, and works on paper.
Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. An illustrated catalogue featuring texts by Cindi Strauss and Janet Koplos accompanies the exhibition.
From Inside the MFAH
California artist Clayton Bailey (born 1939) has devoted his career to comedy, science, and pseudoscience through the medium of ceramics. His 1977 work Monster (“Burping Bowl”), currently on view in Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection at Mint Museum Uptown, is a cross between a pond-dwelling sci-fi monster and the childhood nightmare of someone living in the toilet bowl. A head rests in a bowl of water, and air is pumped under the cavity of the head by an aquarium air pump. When enough air builds up, the head lifts up in the water and releases the air with a burp.
Clayton Bailey, Monster (“Burping Bowl”), 1977, ceramic, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund. © Clayton Bailey
When Monster was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, it had been separated from its original pump, and where the water level should be was unclear. The short piece of plastic-covered steel wire used as a hinge to affix the head in the bowl was significantly corroded and deteriorated.
Interior of the head before cleaning, showing the original silicone caulk and the cement fill in the center to balance the head, creating the right equilibrium to produce the burp.
Interior of the head after cleaning.
After cleaning, MFAH purchased a new pump and piece of copper electrical wire for a hinge, and we assembled the object. Experimentation revealed that a variety of sound patterns could be produced, largely dependent upon water level. When the water level was higher, the burp was louder and longer, and the intervals between burps longer. Lower water levels produced burps smaller and more frequent, with a sound more akin to a burbling fountain, as you can hear here.
Given the artist’s predilection for objects eliciting shock and amusement, the higher water level was more likely to be his preference. However, larger burps produced a larger radius of spray, which would constitute a slipping hazard for Museum visitors. We decided on a middle ground of moderate burps and minimal spray for display: