TRANSFORMATION BY FIRE BRINGS COURAGEOUS CLAY WORKS TO THE GARDINER MUSEUM

Hands by CD Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.
Hands by CD Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.
If These Walls Could Talk by Anonymous, Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.
If These Walls Could Talk by Anonymous, Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.

"There is something about working with clay — the tactile experience, using both hands — it’s very primitive in a way and for me it accessed the more primitive parts of me, the non-intellectual, emotional, child-like parts. I found myself angry or sad or both constantly while working with the clay. . . finding a way to access those painful parts and work through them in a safe way was one of the most important resources I have ever found.” CD, program participant

Hands by CD Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.It’s never been publicized before, but a unique art therapy program held annually in the Gardiner Museum’s clay studios quietly transforms the lives of women who’ve experienced violence. Now for the first time, the artworks created during the program’s 10-year history are on view in the landmark Transformation by Fire: Women Overcoming Violence Through Clay exhibition.

"Women go through a transformation through the claywork class. They’ve been through fire, and hell, and ideally they find regeneration,” says Rachel Gotlieb, the exhibition’s lead coordinator, and a member of OCAD U’s Onsite Gallery Advisory Board (she’s also taught design history here). “It’s a nice parallel with clay, because clay when it’s fired through a kiln it becomes harder and stronger."

The clay program is a partnership with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, and as such Gotlieb worked in close collaboration with OCAD U alumna Lynne Jenkins (Painting and Sculpture, 1988), Director of Counselling Services at the Schlifer Clinic, together with artist Susan Low-Beer, art therapist Suzanne Thompson, who run the clay workshops, and PS Design.

According to Gotlieb, when the team looked at the work women in the program have created over the past 10 years, four key themes emerged: Metamorphosis and Transformation; Hope and Resilience; Mind and Body and Sanctuary and Shelter. Works were selected for the exhibition based on these themes.

"My experience throughout this program, when working with the clay, was almost always very emotional and painful — but hugely cathartic. It was like the pain of experiencing a sliver removed from an infected wound — hurt like hell but I felt so much better for it.” CD

If These Walls Could Talk by Anonymous, Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.As Jenkins explains, the program enables women to tell their experiences through clay, often in profoundly moving ways, and that’s important not only to the participants, but also to those who attend the exhibition. “There’s a real gentleness about art that invites people to the topic,” she says. “People can observe the work and engage with it, and it will begin to percolate in their minds."

The clinic began its work in the 1980s, and was named after Barbra Schlifer, a young law student who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the stairwell of her Beaches apartment. She and her colleagues had a dream of working with marginalized people, and her colleagues decided to fulfil that dream and help women who’ve experienced violence.

Today the clinic provides free legal, counselling, interpretation, information and referral services for women who are experiencing or have experienced violence. “Every day we see women really change their lives and that’s significant. Often we’re advocating for women fleeing dangerous situations, and they move out of those situations in a way they describe as being free for the first time in their lives,” says Jenkins.

To ensure the exhibition is accessible to everyone, including students, and anyone interested in art therapy and gender studies, the coordination team raised $25,000 to fund free admission to the Gardiner Museum for the duration of this exhibition.

“I have so many feelings about the work I created. . . for me, the meaning of the sculpture is fear, secrecy and scars, but also strength and support. To others, it can mean whatever it makes them feel inside.” CD
 

Learn more

Exhibition dates: runs until April 28
Location: the Gardiner Museum
Admission: Free
More details

"Speaking out about violence through clay" video Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.




Hands by CD Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.
If These Walls Could Talk by Anonymous, Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.

"There is something about working with clay — the tactile experience, using both hands — it’s very primitive in a way and for me it accessed the more primitive parts of me, the non-intellectual, emotional, child-like parts. I found myself angry or sad or both constantly while working with the clay. . . finding a way to access those painful parts and work through them in a safe way was one of the most important resources I have ever found.” CD, program participant

Hands by CD Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.It’s never been publicized before, but a unique art therapy program held annually in the Gardiner Museum’s clay studios quietly transforms the lives of women who’ve experienced violence. Now for the first time, the artworks created during the program’s 10-year history are on view in the landmark Transformation by Fire: Women Overcoming Violence Through Clay exhibition.

"Women go through a transformation through the claywork class. They’ve been through fire, and hell, and ideally they find regeneration,” says Rachel Gotlieb, the exhibition’s lead coordinator, and a member of OCAD U’s Onsite Gallery Advisory Board (she’s also taught design history here). “It’s a nice parallel with clay, because clay when it’s fired through a kiln it becomes harder and stronger."

The clay program is a partnership with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, and as such Gotlieb worked in close collaboration with OCAD U alumna Lynne Jenkins (Painting and Sculpture, 1988), Director of Counselling Services at the Schlifer Clinic, together with artist Susan Low-Beer, art therapist Suzanne Thompson, who run the clay workshops, and PS Design.

According to Gotlieb, when the team looked at the work women in the program have created over the past 10 years, four key themes emerged: Metamorphosis and Transformation; Hope and Resilience; Mind and Body and Sanctuary and Shelter. Works were selected for the exhibition based on these themes.

"My experience throughout this program, when working with the clay, was almost always very emotional and painful — but hugely cathartic. It was like the pain of experiencing a sliver removed from an infected wound — hurt like hell but I felt so much better for it.” CD

If These Walls Could Talk by Anonymous, Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.As Jenkins explains, the program enables women to tell their experiences through clay, often in profoundly moving ways, and that’s important not only to the participants, but also to those who attend the exhibition. “There’s a real gentleness about art that invites people to the topic,” she says. “People can observe the work and engage with it, and it will begin to percolate in their minds."

The clinic began its work in the 1980s, and was named after Barbra Schlifer, a young law student who was sexually assaulted and murdered in the stairwell of her Beaches apartment. She and her colleagues had a dream of working with marginalized people, and her colleagues decided to fulfil that dream and help women who’ve experienced violence.

Today the clinic provides free legal, counselling, interpretation, information and referral services for women who are experiencing or have experienced violence. “Every day we see women really change their lives and that’s significant. Often we’re advocating for women fleeing dangerous situations, and they move out of those situations in a way they describe as being free for the first time in their lives,” says Jenkins.

To ensure the exhibition is accessible to everyone, including students, and anyone interested in art therapy and gender studies, the coordination team raised $25,000 to fund free admission to the Gardiner Museum for the duration of this exhibition.

“I have so many feelings about the work I created. . . for me, the meaning of the sculpture is fear, secrecy and scars, but also strength and support. To others, it can mean whatever it makes them feel inside.” CD
 

Learn more

Exhibition dates: runs until April 28
Location: the Gardiner Museum
Admission: Free
More details

"Speaking out about violence through clay" video Courtesy of the Gardiner Museum.