Mary Tuthill Lindheim:
 Art and Inspiration

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advance reviews


MARY TUTHILL LINDHEIM: ART AND INSPIRATION is the first book on the American sculptor, ceramist, and teacher Mary Tuthill Lindheim (1912- 2004), who helped awaken the sleepy art world of 1940s San Francisco to the legitimacy and potential of clay as a fine art medium.

Below are two advance reviews of the book.



MARY TUTHILL LINDHEIM: Art and Inspiration
Edited by Abby Wasserman with Essays by Maria Porges, Abby Wasserman, and Aram Fischer

By Nancy M. Servis
Davis, California

The photo-illustrated biography of Mary Tuthill Lindheim, a midcentury Northern California artist and activist, presents three essays, a selection of the artist's writings, and a life chronology. Together the extensive visuals and documentation provide ample material for the reader to reflect on Lindheim's accomplishments as a sculptor, ceramist, mosaicist and jeweler. This ambitious introductory text by experienced writer and editor, Abby Wasserman provides satisfying historical information about Lindheim while offering solid art historical context that step outside the focus of other larger-than-life ceramic practitioners of the day. It is both an advancement to understanding the history of Northern California ceramics and an homage to Mary Tuthill Lindheim who was also a friend of the author.

Abby Wasserman's main essay, "Mary Lindheim's Role in Bay Area Ceramics" concisely presents a woman of artistic evolution and energy whose broad spectrum of work in a variety of media was indicative of all but the most ambitious women of the day. Her focus on Bay Area ceramics in general and Lindheim's ceramic pieces specifically enforce the sentiment that Lindheim made aesthetic contributions to the medium. Of particular interest are her ceramic wall screens that were both original in thought and intriguing in execution. Wasserman's discussion of the artist's clay use and glaze treatment for vessels is equally of note.

There is also value in the author's ability to present generally unknown details of the artistic society of the Bay Area during the 40s, 50s, and 60s by linking strands of information and creating a fuller view of societal dynamics . This information broadens the standard art-historical understanding of 20th century California ceramics. The refreshing tenor of her writing supported by photographs of some of the artist's best work reveals a conscientious and perceptive soul in the person of Lindheim who did not prioritize her work over the common good.

Two other essays accompany Wasserman's text and lend perspective to Mary Tuthill Lindheim's work. The first essay, by contemporary essayist and artist, Maria Porges discusses Lindheim's initial work as a sculptor in both stone and clay with brief considerations regarding vessel creations. As the first essay in the text, Porges's words provide a context from which the budding artist develops. A subtext to Porges straightforward writings is that stylistically Mary Tuthill Lindheim was an artist of her time. The final essay in the book is by Aram Fischer, great nephew of the artist. Here we read of Mary Tuthill Lindheim's importance to art organizations in Sausalito, San Francisco and beyond.

While some comments found throughout the text are more personally driven than academically derived, Mary Tuthill Lindheim: Art and Inspiration broadens our understanding of mid-century Northern California art, specifically ceramics. By featuring Lindheim, an empowered artist and art advocate, Abby Wasserman and her associated writers provide an informed perspective to an active art scene that is worth telling.

Nancy M. Servis is the Executive Director of the Richmond Art Center, Richmond CA. She is a scholar of Northern California ceramics and has written articles for Ceramics: Art and Perception, Ceramics Monthly and curated numerous exhibitions on the subject.



Mary Tuthill Lindheim: Art and Inspiration
Edited by Abby Wasserman

By DeWitt Cheng
San Francisco, California

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol famously demoted art to just a job like any other job. While art has certainly continued along those lines, becoming professionalized to an extent undreamed of by earlier artists, the artist's life is still, in general, economically tenuous—though less fraught, of course, than in the old days described in this new monograph on the now little-known sculptor, painter, designer and ceramicist, Mary Lindheim (1912-2004). Mary Tuthill Lindheim: Art and Inspiration is edited by Lindheim's longtime friend, Abby Wasserman, and elegantly designed by Lesley Gasparetti, featuring graceful, informative essays by Oakland Museum Curator Julie Muñiz, art critic Maria Porges, Wasserman, and Aram Fischer. Lindheim's creative life and professional career are well worth examining for more than the requisite fifteen minutes.

Lindheim said, "The creative spirit and the compassionate spirit are not things apart but kindred responses to life." Art and social justice were, as the essayists point out, the artist's twin passions. Possessed of an independent streak from youth (she wrote in a book report at age ten, "Ivanhoe was a bore and his girl dreary. I preferred the villain and the Jewish lass, Rebecca"), the young woman pursued a variety of interests: landing a small part in Howard Hawks's 1931 film, Today We Live, with Cooper and Crawford; campaigning in 1934 for the novelist Upton Sinclair, an avowed socialist, in his almost-successful California gubernatorial bid; lobbying racist Southern Congressmen for the NAACP (which she had joined at age fourteen) to support anti-lynching legislation in 1937; studying with Alexander Archipenko in Los Angeles and Isamu Noguchi in the mid-1930s; visiting Diego Rivera on a 1937 trip to Mexico City with her husband, the radio writer and producer Bill Robson (a colleague of Norman Corwin, Archibald McLeish, Orson Welles, and Bernard Herrmann); and falling in love with two brothers, Norvin and then Donald Lindheim—tragically: Norvin died in 1939 from medical causes, and Donald, whom she married in 1941, was killed in Germany just days before the end of the war there. In 1946, in her mid-thirties, already a teacher at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute) and the California Labor School, she began studying pottery at Oakland's California College of Arts and Crafts, determined to support herself. This she did, from her studio in Sausalito, while serving various arts organizations with idealism and energy (at least until her health began to fail), until her death at age ninety-two, at her tiny home in Bolinas.

A solid and diverse body of work remains, however. Her early stone and clay figurative works like Source, Cynara, Standing Nude, Nude, Modern Dancer (a portrait of a Martha Graham student) and Mother and Child, recall, variously, Moore, Gaudier-Brzeska, Archipenko, Lehmbruck and Kollwitz; they're accomplished works, but derivative. Her sculptures in the Fifties and Sixties about war—Universal Soldier, Family, The Mothers and Voices of Protest—seem to touch a deeper, primal, universal chord of pathos, antiwar passion unmediated by esthetic fashion, consonant with her generous activism on behalf of American blacks, native Americans, war vets and refugees, and opposing fascism, McCarthyism and—a local angle—the overdevelopment of Sausalito's beach frontage, in the 1966 Save the Cove campaign that began in her house/studio on Bridgeway (destroyed two years later, forcing her to relocate).

Lindheim's real strength is in what used to be designated as "crafts": bowls, vases (the branch vases of the 1950s are monumental at only two feet tall), candelabras and painting-like wall dividers (part of her "architectural sculpture" business) that both embody the era in which they were created and transcend it. Moment in Time, Path to the Temple, Recapitulation of the Ancestors, Womb of the World, Four Sacred Corners, Morning Song, Evening Song, Sun Burst, and An Actor and His Masks translate Klee, Ernst, Picasso, Miro into pebbles, stones, sand, metal and magnesite on wood panel—with no loss of quality. An avid student of other cultures, she disdained formulas and trendiness. In her 1953 farewell address as outgoing president to the Association of San Francisco Potters (now Association of Glass and Clay Artists), she declared: "It is possible for us to select what is good and pertinent from the past if we use it as a foundation [to] create what is fitting and beautiful for our own times. We have the whole wide world and the whole of history as a source. In the very absence of what [English potter] Bernard Leach calls 'tradition,' we may find our greatest advantage. For us, there is no one 'right' way of doing a thing—no one shape—no one finish. We belong to a pioneering country, and we are a forward-looking people, we will find out our own ways and our own solutions."

DeWitt Cheng is a curator and art writer based in San Francisco.

Copyright 2006-2012 Abby Wasserman. All rights reserved.