By Bob Hicks
Betty Feves (1918-1985) was a pioneering American ceramic artist who lived most of her working life in the Oregon desert town of Pendleton but gained a national reputation as a thorough modernist in a tradition-bound medium, and not coincidentally shattered a few glass ceilings as she went about her work. Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft has just opened a fascinating retrospective of her work, Generations: Betty Feves, and I covered it for Oregon Arts Watch. The result is this story, Betty Feves: down and dirty with the clay.
“In Feves’ case, (art and craft) seem inseparable. Her more mature work, the stuff where you see more of her and less of her influences, is pared down and elemental, more purely suggestive than representational of anything specific or immediate. But you also see, very clearly, the landscape in which she lived her life: the geologic curvatures and textures, the size and brawn, the brown-based desert colors that shift suddenly and sometimes burst into flame. Things crack and sag and curl, and sometimes their glazed surfaces look like wood or stone. But usually lurking somewhere is the spine of the land. Its impact is inescapable, as in the paintings of the late Oregon abstract artist Carl Morris and the works of Pendleton artist James Lavadour, whose celebrated international career got a kick-start from Feves’ prodding and encouragement.”
Illustration: “Six Figures,” date unknown. Raku on wooden base. Collection of Feves Family. Photo: Dan Kvitka