Exploring Ceramics at the Gardiner Museum

While in Toronto recently I had some time before my flight home, unsurprisingly I used that time to visit bookstores and heritage sites.  I was torn between all the possibilities in Toronto but opted to visit a couple of museums I hadn’t been to before.  The Gardiner Museum located in Toronto is Canada’s national ceramics museum.  Founded in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner it was originally designed to house their collection of ceramic art.  Since the 1980s the collection has grown substantially and is now viewed as one of the most substantial collections of ceramics in North America.

Ground Floor

The ground floor of the Gardiner includes Modern/Contemporary ceramics, Ancient Americas, Italian Miolica and English Delftware.  There is also currently as small exhibition dedicated to Edmund De Waal and another one to Vimmy Ridge.  My favourite part of this floor was the numerous audio visual stations which included tablets where you could learn about different ceramic techniques, the historical significance of pieces on display, and about the collection more broadly.  I particularly enjoyed a video clip which showed an artist recreating an 18th century puzzle jug.  Puzzle jugs were used for drinking games in pubs and taverns and I found the whole idea and complexity behind them fascinating.  In case anyone else is interested (and because it’s just so cool), I’ve included the video which was created by the Victoria and Albert Museum below:

 Second Floor

Ceramic monkey orchestra

Ceramic monkey orchestra

This floor was dedicated to Japanese and Chinese porcelain and also included a substantial European porcelain gallery.  The narrative and historical context in the European gallery was extremely well done.  It placed ceramics within larger political and social movements.  It also really connected the narrative to the idea of a war of personalities and tangible excitement around the idea of collecting new types and styles of ceramics.  I found myself oddly invested in the text panels and wanting to know how the narrative concluded.  This gallery also included a number of slightly bizarre pieces of ceramics – weird looking cats and a monkey orchestra.  In more than one instance I found myself laughing out loud (and probably looking like a crazy person) at some of the stranger items.

True Nordic

Part of the True Nordic exhibition.

Part of the True Nordic exhibition.

The George R. Gardiner Special Exhibition Gallery is located on the third floor of the Gardiner.  At the moment this space is hosting True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada This space was by far the most crowded in the Museum and it was also my least favourite gallery.  The Nordic exhibition focuses on seven decades of Scandinavian influence on Canadian design.  It included ceramics, furniture, glassware, interior design pieces, and textiles.  The exhibition also incorporated a couple of National Film Board clips showing various Canadian artists at work – eg. a family making Nordic inspired ceramic light fixtures. I did really enjoy some of the textile pieces in this gallery – but I love almost any example of textile as art – so that probably isn’t too surprising.

Overall

I would recommend the Gardiner to anyone interested in ceramic art.  It’s not a huge museum and you can easily take it all in a couple of hours.  The gallery spaces were well laid out and had a variety of media incorporated to engage all type of users.  I also noticed that Sundays they do programming specifically geared at bringing children into the museum space which I’m always happy to see.

Local History and Artwork at the Galway City Museum

It rained a lot while I was in Galway.  The rain seemed to come in bursts, it would rain for ten minutes and then it would be sunny, twenty minutes later it would rain for another ten minutes.  In my mind a rainy day is a perfect day for a trip to a museum.  The Galway City Museum located near the River Corrib by the Spanish Arch was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Admission is free and the Museum is well worth a visit. 

The permanent galleries focus on the history of Galway, with the main floor’s exhibitions focusing on prehistoric Galway and medieval history.   The mixture of explanatory text, historical photographs, and archeological artifacts was well done in this area.  This space concisely explains the geographical formation of the area and the early settlers.

In the large atrium of the museum is a Galway Hooker that was made for the museum by Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  The boat is named Máirtín Oliver in honour of the last King of the Claddagh village.  The boat is an amazing piece of craftsmanship and the placement of it makes it impossible to miss during any visit to the museum. 

During my visit there was a couple of temporary exhibitions that I particularly enjoyed.  The Derrick Hawker: An Islands’ Retrospective exhibition was a great example of a city museum incorporating local artists into the space.  The exhibition focused on the paintings and sketches done by Hawker with an emphasis on his work showcasing the Connemara region and the Ballynakill Lake in Gorumna. 

The Hawker exhibition was complimented by an exhibition of ceramics and glass works on loan from the University of Limerick.  The exhibit contained works from around the world and the vast majority of them were practical ceramics such as vases or bowls.  The catalogue of the collection which was the basis of this exhibit can be seen here.

Other than the exhibitions I really enjoyed the physical space of the museum.  A number of the walls of the museum are glass which allows for great views of the city from the gallery spaces.  It was also interesting to see that most exhibition text was in both English and Gaelic.  I would be interested to know how many of the exhibition visitors read the Gaelic text over the English.

During my visit there was also a curatorial meeting doing on in one of the exhibition spaces that was under renovation.  The public historian and exhibition in installer in me couldn’t help but listen in briefly.  It was neat to see staff actually collaborating in the exhibition space and actively considering how the space would work with the flow of the museum overall.

Collection Glimpse: The Gardiner Museum

Gardiner Museum

This is the second entry in a series of posts entitled, “Collection Glimpses.”  Each post in the series  focuses on a unique collection, innovative repository, or a not well known cultural heritage institution. The first post highlighted the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archive.  

History of the Museum
The Gardiner Museum is Canada’s only museum dedicated solely to ceramics and is one of the few museums in the world that focuses exclusively on ceramics.  The Gardiner Museum opened in Toronto in 1884 and was initially dedicated to holding the collection of artifacts held by George and Helen Gardiner.  From 1987 to 1996 the Gardiner Museum was governed by the ROM.  From 1996 to 2004 to Museum underwent considerable growth and the collection grew to include ceramics from around the world.  The Gardiner then closed from 2004 to 2006 to undergo renovation and expansion.  Since reopening the Gardiner has gained exhibition and display space, and a hands-on clay studio space.

 The Collection
 The collection held by the Gardiner Museum contains more than 3000 pieces of ceramics from around the world.  The items in the collection range from ancient pottery to contemporary works of art. A large percentage of this collection has been digitized and made available online.  The browse collections feature is a bit clunky, but the ceramics are sorted by collection type and are well photographed.

The Gardiner Museum also houses the Gail Brooker Ceramic Research Library.  This library contains over 2500 items including auction catalogues, rare books, scrapbooks, periodicals, and special collections.  The collection is searchable online.  However, the collection is non-circulating and must be consulted onsite. 

Educational Programming
The Gardiner offers a variety of clay classes for all ages and skills levels.  All of these classes are run by professional ceramists and are held in a studio setting.  The museum also offers school programs, workshops, and group tours.  The Museum also holds “Id Clinics” where patrons can bring in objects and have them identified by curators.  Additionally, every day at 2pm the museum offers guided tours with the price of admission.

The museum has fairly decent hours and is reasonably priced ($12 for adults and half price admission on Friday evenings).   For anyone interested in the clay medium this is the Canadian institution to turn to – both in terms of research materials and exhibited collections. 

Photo Credit: wvs and  StudioGabe