In Correspondence with the Vessel:
The Collection of Joy and Allan Nachman
/All Photos Courtesy Addie langford and Curtis McGuire for Detroit Research
Marie T. Hermann, A Gentle Blow to the Rock, 2013. Stoneware, Lower right, Ed Moulthrop, Tulipwood, Spheroid, 1988.
David Goldburg, Sideboard, 2013, Jang Jin, Porcelain, 2013-2015, Photos courtesy of Addie Langford.
So long as beauty abides in only a few articles created by a few geniuses, the Kingdom of Beauty is nowhere near realization. Bernard Leach((Bernard Leach, A Potter’s Book (London: Faber and Faber, 1976), 7.))
In a talk in February 2016 at Pewabic Pottery, Anders Ruhwald, curator, and Artist-in-Residence in the department of Ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art, toured a group of forty through seven artists’ variations on the contemporary ceramic vessel. As compelling as the new works was the thought Ruhwald left us with, namely, that the vessel is one of the few cultural and material universals, which belongs to no one and to no one culture. Baskets, and pots, earth and fiber are the leveling field of anthropology, and Joy and Allan Nachman have created a life wrapped around the exploration of this tradition.
Bernard Leach, who may be said to have organized the basic modern language and conceptual repertoire for discussing the making and appreciation of studio pottery, refers to the pottery vessel from the T’ang and Sung periods in China, Japanese master ware, Syrian, Persian, English, Delft, German and more, and refers to the highest grade pots from these far reaching places as “a completely unified human expression.”((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 4.)) Is this what Joy really means when she insists she cannot stand fussy, or flashy? The word Allan uses is authentic. The wood, fiber, and clay vessels in their home are not about narrative, or texture, or the prestige object. They search for the word, just the right work, to illuminate a thirty-year fascination with pots. Baskets. Wooden bowls.
In exploring the vessel collection of Joy and Allan Nachman, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, I turned to the revered English potter Bernard Leach who drew upon ancient traditions for direction and purpose. 2016 presents art works that range from robotics, to hologram, back to farm-to-table and the evaporation of the object all together in some acts of social practice or social sculpture. This evaporation of the object has brought into question again, albeit in new light, the meaning and weight of the crafted object. No longer in need of return to the Art vs Craft conversation,((Nearly always, when Leach touches on the Fine Arts / Crafts distinction he places the words applied and fine in quotation marks)) the craft object has an even more complicated position, that lands us somewhere in the long avoided territory of the spirit, or the spiritual – or the ritualistic? For anyone who has ever been aesthetically stopped in her tracks by a tea bowl, or stared into a potter’s work like a campfire, you will know that these circle containers of liquid and meal can feel beyond explanation. Leach has been heavily criticized for his taxonomies and order-creating language (chapter 1 of A Potter’s Book is called, after all, “Towards a Standard”!), and no more so than by the English potter, writer, and installation artist Edmund de Waal,((Cf. Edmund de Waal, Bernard Leach (London: Tate, 1997).)) but it would be fairer to acknowledge that Leach moors himself in such a narrow strip of pottery correctness because he was confronted with the need to make a case for pottery as art against a reigning narrowness of taste and sensibility: “Very few people in this country [England] think of the making of pottery as an art, and amongst those few the great majority have no criterion of aesthetic values which would enable them to distinguish between the genuinely good and the meretricious.”((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 1.)) It could, more interestingly, be also argued, that without these imposed rules – these fictions – of standard to support him, he might implode from the poetry of the vessel. In the quotation from Leach used as epigraph to this reflection, Leach argues that making is humble and belongs to the work of many hands, or maybe to the every hand, though if you read Leach he is far from populist in his views. Still, there is a Kingdom of Beauty at hand – beauty is eschatological? – and it can only be the work of many hands – the communion of the many? Making, in other words, is of tradition; it is not flashy but authentic. Nor egoistic, but certainly making must be reflective (and self-reflexive), or it (the pot) is as good as dead. I believe this quiet, barely- there resonance of the pot which is invisible to most people (accustomed to faster looking or who have more muscular motives in their association to art) is the sensation upon which the Nachmans have built their collection. To draw upon Leach, there is a restrained elegance in the works in the Nachman collection. In Leach’s telling, the Japanese revere the qualities of restraint and that which is subdued and use a Japanese word, shibui, that has no equivalent in English: “It is impossible to translate it satisfactorily into one English term, ‘austere’, ‘subdued’, ‘restrained’, these words come nearest. Etymologically, shibui means ‘astringent’, and is used to describe a profound, unassuming quiet feeling.”((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 9.)) In an interesting passage in A Potter’s Book, Leach talks about the maker imbuing the pot with something a bit like a fragrance: My husband returns home from an art opening and I can tell he greeted Marsha M. (Sandalwood). Or, of one of our three whom we call our fairy Godmothers – Chanel. Leach says “there can be no fullness or complete realization of utility without beauty, refinement and charm, for the simple reason that their absence must in the long run be intolerable to both maker and consumer. We desire not only food, but the zest of eating.”((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 13.)) Leach is making a point about the unseen energy transmuted through material, that holding water, for example, only checks the box of utility – it may be a container, but not yet a vessel. What is the passage from container to vessel? How might this transition be figured or felt and what might it be in the material and its organization that triggers responsiveness in the handler? Leach hammers out (and at) these two principles, the ones that are bedrock to the Nachman aesthetic, principles which bind two ubiquitous and complex aspects of living. Here again is Leach on the significance of popular or folk arts, quoting from Soetsu Yanagi (“the intellectual leader of the Japanese craft movement of today”((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 7.))) on Japanese handicraft and the role of the anonymous origination of form in their development. Utility is the first principle of beauty:
One may ask: what then is the nature of the beauty which has been discovered by these masters? […] In the first place, it is non-individualistic […] Some of the most famous tea-bowls were originally the simplest of utensils in popular use in Korea or China; many of them were the rice bowls of Korean peasants. But the amazingly keen eye of the Cha-no-yu master has discovered in these odd and neglected pieces a unique beauty; for what most appeals to him are the things originally made for everyday use. In brief, Cha-no-yu may be defined as an aesthetics of actual living, in which utility is the first principle of beauty. And this is why such great significance has been given to certain articles necessary for everyday life.((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 8.))
Brad Sells, Long Fluted Cherry Vessel, 2000.
Various wood turned vessels.
Christian Burchard, Small Treasures, 1996, wood turned vessels.
Various antique and contemporary miniature vessels and carvings.
The second principle Leach speaks of is humility, and again he quotes from Soetsu Yanagi: “The next important aspect of the works of people’s art is that they are simple and unassuming […] Indeed Beauty and Humility border on each other.”((Leach, A Potter’s Book, 8.)) If you’ve spent ten minutes with Joy and Allan you will not recall hearing them over a crowd. Elegant. Inquisitive. Even as we chatter away, the Nachman’s living room feels quiet, and it is no mystery that I met Allan at the swimming pool, a place of meditation, and routine.
Allan speaks of his experience learning to turn wood with mythic Kentucky wood turner, Rudy Osolnik, a man who rose at 4:00am, turning over 100,000 candle sticks before many sunrises when he would breakfast with his wife. $12 at a time, he put his kids through college. Touching and shaping material and teaching day in, day out. Until recently I hadn’t realized the paper-thin wooden platters on my grandmother’s wall were Osolnik’s. More about Rudy, later. Thirty years, collecting bowls. There is a centering of the space as we move into conversation. I am witnessing turtle doves tell their story aloud for the first time and it is gorgeous.
Previous spread: Irving Tobocman, architect, Drawing Room, 1965.
Joy Nachman, a third generation native Detroiter, grew up in Palmer Woods and pursued education and psychology in college. In her youth, she enjoyed drawing, but marks a pivotal trip to Sam Fields Art School on Wyoming street in Detroit as an art experience that made certain things possible, or rather, she might have gained access to feelings or a way of accessing thoughts. After this, art history class at University of Michigan filled her with images, stories, and historical connections that made her an informed guide to her family in New York one summer while visiting the Frick Collection. The combination of this early exposure helped her to think the Allan Nachman of 1969 was normal, for seeking out a Picasso to hang on his fraternity house wall. Allan, also Detroit born, and University of Michigan educated, traces his connection to art, or culture, as he chiseled more closely to say, to the ever-present opera and classical music that filled his childhood home. Surrounded by 78’s and his parents reverence for music, Allan later expanded his participation in art from listening to making, and from making to looking, and with Joy to collecting. He was attracted to wood working with hand tools in a school shop class where a wooden jewelry box and gavel captured his imagination. He worked side-by-side with his father, a carpenter, and developed more than just skills, but a relationship with material. He spoke lovingly of this gavel, and it made me wonder if that was his real gateway to the Law. And from his mother, he recalls distinct attention paid to a collection of Spode cups and saucers. The maternal and the paternal, presence then, as distinctive passageways and entries into the development of sensibility.
Early Art Collecting
When Allan was in college, the Ann Arbor Art Fair, now one of the largest in the country, put up its first tent. He confused friends by collecting figurative paintings instead of dormitory schlock. He hung the walls of his fraternity with Lyonel Feininger prints and again, a Picasso. “I just wanted to be surrounded by it (art),” Nachman said, and has not missed an Ann Arbor art fair since. Later, attending University of Michigan, Allan took the history of art and symphony between law. The Nachman’s commitment to music continues through their creation and support of Cabaret 313, a Detroit cabaret series.
A delight to watch Joy and Allan talk into and out of a verbal serpentine, then a slip-knot, each looping in to interrupt and finish each other’s thought, correct the story, re-route the conversation. The title of this reflection might have been Collecting Couples, because the unit is in fact always the inspiration and limitation of any great collection. The Florida-based collectors the Rubells spoke at the DIA in 2015, introducing their traveling 30 Americans exhibition, and they were riotous. The inter-familial negotiation of the collecting couple can’t be underestimated as the maypole of the aesthetic. Each collected work has an advocate and it makes for great soap-opera. The must-haves, the over my dead-bodies. Bringing in the offspring for a swing vote. Joy and Allan established their wrestling terms years ago and they have their approach down. My fascination lies in the navigation, negotiation, and sensitivity toward each other’s inaudible preferences – the zest-meter being highly attuned and willing to take turns being the one who can’t let go. The collection becomes a portrait described through a reflected visual desire. And for Joy and Allan, these vessels create a space that is about centering, not containment. The wheaty palette of the space and many of its hosted objects is restful, with splashes of bold color. If an interior reflects a life together, there is tranquility with an enviable amount of spice.
1969 was a good year for the Nachmans. They met in March and were married over the Thanksgiving holiday. In tribute, every five years Joy dawns her wedding gown to serve Thanksgiving dinner. It still fits. Like Tim and Marilyn Mast, featured ceramics collectors in the opening salvo of Detroit Research, their creative life together was creating a domestic space born of modern furniture design. They moved into a Mies van der Rohe coop on Nicolet in Detroit and began acquiring Knoll furniture. Allan laughs and asks Joy, “Remember the striped couch?” (I believe a couch launched the Mast collection as well.) There was a Parsons table, a Sarrinen, and Breuer, some of it imitation, some of them original, but the environment was nonetheless curated. Allan went so far as to paint a canvas after a Mondrian, and chuckled that is was (indeed), “harder than it looks!” But a beloved piece agreed on by both from the start is a wooden bench, still in the front vestibule after decades from Hobart, Tasmania looking nearly Shaker in its heavy austerity sitting underneath a sizable contemporary egg tempera landscape. The bench holds the key to the power of the Nachman collection, embodying as it does what the Japanese revere in pottery: the qualities of restraint and that which is subdued.
This egg tempera (a contemporary) work leads us back to painting. The Nachman early life together was spent strolling through galleries in Michigan and New York City and later all over the globe, buying painted works, some on monthly payments (flash back to the Rubells, who started buying on monthly payments). This is where color comes in, and has always been there, especially for Joy, and has been quietly simmering in basketry, ceramics, and paintings throughout the decades of collecting vessels.
Joy sits forward when color enters the conversation. It is clear that her interest in baskets and ceramics is the combination of form and the ability of glaze and fiber to introduce color, yet she protests (in front of their five stunning Betty Woodman oversized, color-ecstatic, sculptural, or deconstructed vases as Woodman refers to them) that she doesn’t like anything flashy or overdone. Contradiction is king! And her favorite vessels are the Beatrice Wood opalescent goblets: they are petite, but bullish in their flash. Joy knows that her taste distinguishes between the loud and the exuberant. Betty Woodman, one of the most exuberant artists of our time, engages the vessel as canvas; but not just that, with her vessels it is as though a swarm of color were flying through space and slashed against her pots as it blew by leaving this sectional imprint of something symphonic. Born in 1930 and at the potter’s wheel by 1950, her progression marks her practice as one of the most ahead of her day, and one of the most sustaining of the twentieth century. The exuberant chromaticism of theses pots brings the symphony of Allan’s youth back into the embodied form of interior living in the richest sense of this term interior. The Woodman vessels in proximity to an Osolnik wooden bowl, or silent totem of the Richard Devore, exemplify the range of vessel language and the Nachman’s breadth of palette in the field. This brings me back to the vessel as Greenwich Mean Time. The intermingling of these jubilee works and the sobriety of neutral toned golden sectional works like Devore’s offers a serpentine experience that is the comme vous l’aimez (as you like it) of the collector.
PAINTING, STILL LIFE, AND POTS 1990’s
Joy and Allan walked the New York gallery circuit three to four times each year, where the Fischbach Gallery was a top choice. Starting out, like Donald and Mera Rubell, Allan bartered legal services for paintings (works by Detroit painter Carol Wald among others) and he paid a New York vendor monthly for the Picasso. Founded by Marilyn Cole Fischbach in 1960 on Madison Avenue, the gallery helped launch the careers of Alex Katz, Eva Hesse, and Knox Martin, and Fischbach helped strengthen their eye. In the 1990’s, their interest in the paintings of Jane Freilicher seemed to foretell their transition to vessel collecting and still-life composition. Their attraction to the work of the late Australian born Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, a ceramic artist influenced by English potters Ray Finch, Michael Cardew, and Bernard Leach, points to this. The Nachmans attraction to Freilicher’s paintings hinted at their attraction to handcrafted environments and the careful still-life arrangement characteristic of the Nabi school. Among one of the most noteworthy women in painting when the scene was male-dominated, Freilicher was one of few women artists who were exhibiting alongside male counterparts. Her painting of urban and country scenes related in tone and texture to the still life and interiors of the Nabi (she drew influences from Bonnard, Vuillard, and Matisse), as well as Giorgio Morandi, establishing her position as a tangential member of the New York School of the 1950’s. Frielicher’s work was important to New York painters (Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers) and poets (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler). A gestural siren made by Arizona artist Heloise Christa floats in bronze as you approach the Nachmans’ front door, and though they enjoy the recognizable, they prefer the implied conversation among clustered forms to the traditional narrative of representational works.
THE VESSEL ENTERS THE COLLECTION
What Joy and Allan found in vessels was inherently modernist and in their words “nothing fussy, nothing showy – authentic forms,” Joy repeats, referring to egg forms, orbs, and curves in their atrium space. There is nowhere to hide in the open curve of a bowl which reminds me of the Nachman’s skill in the practice of attention. Beaded baskets and discovering Dona Look baskets made of silk and paper birch bark at Perimeter Gallery in Chicago started to expand the vessel language from solid to porous. They decided to collect vessel forms instead of collecting a broad spectrum, which brought a great deal of purpose and also the purpose and the thrill that comes only from landing something you already long sought after. Many a collector’s methodology is to aim in a general direction, then delight when they encounter something unexpected. Not the case for Joy and Allan. Sculptural vessels – wood, ceramic, or woven – and likely by certain artists are already known. The search for them has long become targeted.
Next spread: Irving Tobocman, architect, Dining Room, 1965. Upper left, Betty Woodman, Triptych, 2014.
The Nachman home – architecture, décor, domesticity – as vessel is not merely a collection of vessels but an embodiment, it seems to me, of the carving, receptive approach to art and its experience as a way of living-with.
Beatrice Wood, Luster-glazed Earthenware, L to R c.1978, c.1978, c.1992, c.1986, c.1958.
Upper left; Richard Devore, Stoneware, 2005. Center; Richard Raffin, Cocobolo Wood Vessel pair. Upper right; Grant Vaughn, White Beech Vessel, 2001. Lower left; Robert Howard, Cedar Vessel, 2001. Lower right; Debra Muhl, Wrapped Fiber Vessels, 1999, 2002.
Various wood turned vessels, Center column of shelving features wood turnings by Collector, Allan Nachman.
GLENN ADAMSON and the VESSEL AS ARCHEOLOGICAL FIRST
Sitting in the Nachmans’ drawing room, it is palpable how the space is itself a vessel, gently containing form with sliding glass walls, a partition wall armoire, and a roof lifted open allowing a clerestory band of light to flood the space. Present in the space, one is impacted by a profound sensation of being as a form of vessel, as well as being in a vessel, inside a vessel, among vessels. When W.B. Yeats’ poem “Among School Children” famously declared, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance,” the question, the image of inseparability, is in part one of being as a kinesthesia of fit: this skin for this surface and no other; this movement for this form and no other; here – being here – like this. The experience of the Nachman home is that, indeed, of the experience of a vessel, and not merely a collection of vessels, with textures of movement and surfaces that respond to different times of day and to different ways of moving around, within, and across its forms. I am reminded of the great English aesthete Adrian Stokes – whom I first encountered in the teaching of my mentor (the Englishman) Tony Hepburn then my husband Michael Stone-Richards for whom Stokes was a cult figure in the Cambridge of his friend the potter Edmund de Waal. Stokes famously distinguished between two fundamental approaches to art-making and aesthetic experience: what he called modelling and carving. The modelling approach was marked by the straight line, angularity, and a certain speed. It is the idiom of the language of psychic violence (think Picasso or aspects of de Kooning and the prevalence of gouging, cutting, attacking actions on the surface in their work), the very opposite of the carving approach marked by the curve, restfulness, and receptivity (think Piero, or Henry Moore and the ease with which thought and eye respond to the invitation from the work). Though Stokes was insistent that all important art and aesthetic experience was a dynamic interaction of these two approaches it was clear that he held a preference for the carving approach believing as he did, following the thought of the great psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, that though aesthetic experience was a necessary vehicle of psychic violence ultimately art was a seeking of restorative balance. (For Klein, and likewise Stokes, the violence was a means by which the archaic, that is, the oldest layers of the unconscious mind, come to the surface.) For this reason, Stokes regarded it as essential that works of art be grasped not only as discrete objects but within the larger framework of the home and the artistic form for thinking about the home and domesticity that is, architecture, for an art collection articulates an architecture while an architecture houses and nestles the content which it comes to embody. The Nachman home – architecture, décor, domesticity – as vessel is not merely a collection of vessels but an embodiment, it seems to me, of the carving, receptive approach to art and its experience as a way of living-with. No, it would be too easy, facile, and even cheap, to say that this is all a function of privilege. Following Klein, Stokes sees the roots of art in the holding position, that is, the way in which the child experiences the maternal form of being held. Whether being held or being refused holding is not a matter of material privilege, but a whole future world will be built on this experience, and one sees, experiences everywhere in the Nachman house the forms and surfaces of the carving mode of reception and few if any violent breaks or transitions. The vessel is not only what is collected in this household, the vessel is the image of a deep unconscious desire for holding and the refusal or keeping at bay of psychic violence.
Gwynn Hannsen Pigott, Still Life #7, 1995, Porcelain.
If this collection needed to be put into the context of other collections, it might be helpful to mention that the Nachmans bookended my visit that morning with a chat with Glenn Adamson, former Director of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and recently departed Nanette L. Laitman, Director of the Museum of Arts and Design. Just finishing their conversation, Adamson, renown curator and writer/thinker on craft and design, and someone whom I read in graduate school (and I envision as the Mother Teresa of Craft, saving and uplifting, and simultaneously acting as craft scholar/bouncer who has helped to throw off the craft underlingism of the past half century. He has finally made a bore of the Art vs Craft binary). Glenn is sitting at the tiled breakfast table discussing business, about to leave for his talk at Cranbrook Academy of Art; he paces the collection, evaluating the vessel placement he curated for the Nachmans the last time he was in town. We should all have collections that entice a Glenn Adamson to come play in our living room. His thoughts on anthropology have been most compelling to me in helping me come to terms with the mind-bending originality of vessels. Here, originality is used in terms of the first one, the oldest, the one that started it all. Original sin. Original joy. The without this first thing nothing else is possible, original. And by this I mean the vessel as form. In “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” a chapter in his The Invention of Craft, Adamson, alluding to the great anthropological thinker Alfred Gell, references the strategic conflation of Art / Artifact in the pivotal exhibition curated by Susan Vogel for the Museum of African Art in NYC. Adamson observes that Gell had been deeply impressed by the exhibition Art / Artifact, curated by Susan Vogel for the Museum of African Art in New York, and particularly her decision to display a hunting net (made by the Zande people of central Africa) tightly baled and set in the middle of a white cube gallery, looking for all the world as if it were a piece of contemporary art.((Glenn Adamson, “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” The Invention of Craft (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 98.))
Adamson goes on to explore how Gell illuminates the first attempts at making art and anthropological objects interchangeable when he published the article on “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps” which argued for an ecumenical approach in which objects are shown not according to preexisting category (fine art, craft, ethnographic material), but rather for their potential to ensnare the audience in a web of interpretive implication (“Artworks as Traps”). All objects that are “vehicles of complicated ideas,” he wrote, including things like hunting nets that are ostensibly “pragmatic and technical” in nature, could be equally regarded as suitable objects for aesthetic and conceptual interpretation: “ I would define as a candidate artwork any object or performance that potentially rewards such scrutiny because it embodies intentionalities that are complex, demanding of attention and perhaps difficult to reconstruct fully.”((Alfred Gell, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps,” quoted in Adamson, The Invention of Craft, 98.)) This idea of the difficult but entrancing object has increasingly become a dominant model for a new museography and curatorial stance in all kinds of exhibition venues.
Still, what I, who grew up with a woodturning father and among potters, what I am groping after is the non-verbal, pre-theoretical aspect of the vessel or container or first carrier, the extension of the hand, or body that is, and I mean the object that is not composite with words (“Seeing comes before words,” as John Berger opens his Ways of Seeing), even, at a certain level, before seeing or independent of seeing, the world of touch of which the great phenomenologists such as Merleau-Ponty went to such extent to render – yes, through words – as something pre-predicative, that is, before acts of intellectual judgment, not unlike the holding and being held of mother and child so important to Klein and Stokes as a root-source of aesthetic experience. Imagine for a moment being in the middle of a trip, luggage on the sidewalk, and the suitcase disappears, and all contents of said luggage are on a pile on the pavement. What at first you saw as a hassle, or at least a trek, might then become un-navigable. Money and purpose made the trip possible, but, in certain ways your suitcase vessel (in this moment) is a condition of possibility of the fact of mobility – the fact of the trip, if you will. Or, let’s imagine the vessel line-up in going for milk on a Saturday morning. One might go from vessel (bed) to vessel (car) to vessel (store) with vessels (grocery cart, and later bag) paying from vessels (wallet inside purse or pocket) and your body within a living vessel (skin) that contains millions of vessels (heart, kidneys, blood cells) and this sack of vegetables brought to you by a massive system of vessels (water pipelines, harvest buckets, shipping containers). Before currency and politics made mobility into state-sanctioned commerce-bound systems, there was the simple desire to walk away from one’s water source, or carry berries to one’s family. The water/seed bag, basket, and pot made first mobility possible. Containing sustenance liberated people to explore, and mobility or the lack thereof became a foundational feature of every culture since we stood on our hind feet. The vessel is the profoundest symbolization of this archaic trace in human mobility. Containment, that is, holding, is the possibility of growth as also maturation.
I’m beginning to feel that I am getting closer to what moves the Nachmans to collect. (For all authentic collections there is the mystery, Why collect? What is the impulse, the drive, the necessity to collect?) This mystery is made visible when you see a crowd watch a potter’s wheel like a camp fire, silent, mesmerized and deeply entertained. The smallest of children must touch it. Adamson writes about the German idea of craft as linked to enchantment when he says that “our [English] word craft derives from the German word kraft, meaning power or potency, and its archaic bond with sorcery is preserved in terms as “witchcraft.” We also say “crafty.” Meaning deceptive or wily (a term often applied to Native Americans in the nineteenth century). [Anthropologist Alfred] Gell in another important essay entitled “The Enchantment of Technology and the Technology of Enchantment,” provided a persuasive theoretical account of this complex relationship between skill, potency, transfixion, and deception.”((Adamson, “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” 99.)) Adamson then quotes Gell himself:
The enchantment of technology is the power that technical processes have of casting a spell over us so that we see the real world in an enchanted form. Art, as a separate kind of technical activity, only carries further, through a kind of involution, the enchantment which is immanent in all kinds of technical activity… It is the way an art object is construed as having come into the world which is the source of power such objects have over us – their becoming rather than their being.((Alfred Gell, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps,” quoted in Adamson, The Invention of Craft, 99.)) This undeniable being of an object is enchanting, yes, but the child reaches out to the potter’s wheel to see if their hand can do that too. Adamson says of this instinctual activity, “a crafted object is enchanted because we understand it in relative terms – relative, that is, to what we could achieve with our own hands. Crafts stages an asymmetry between maker and viewer, articulated by a difference in particle knowledge. This explains why handmade objects, in general, are more likely to produce an effect of enchantment than mass-produced ones.”((Adamson, “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” 100.))
The idea of the relativity of one’s own skill in the realm of making and crafted objects is complicated further still by the idea of valuation, and the connoisseur. In order to become a connoisseur, one must learn, on one’s own, or at the example of others. Joy and Allan have spent years maintaining ongoing conversations and relationships with artists, gallerists, and connoisseurial groups. It may not have been their intention to build such a learning network, but this is exactly what they’ve done as though the works themselves in collection called out for such articulation of sense and it has shaped their lives.
COLLECTION GUIDES // FIRST SIGNIFICANT CERAMICS ACCQUISITION
In 1987 Joy and Allan moved to their Bloomfield Hills home with daughter, Elanah, then 12, and son David, 9. They consulted with design duo, David and Bobby Goldburg and began exploring Austrian contemporary design from Biedermeier, Vienna from the 1930’s. David Goldburg took them to their first Sculptural Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) Chicago exhibition and whilst there ceramics captured their curiosity. They purchased a work of glass and a triptych by Betty Woodman. Never again collecting glass, they quickly developed what would become an ongoing desire for the work of Betty Woodman, their first significant purchase. The Woodman triptych was a breakthrough acquisition with luscious color (for Joy), and edgy vessel form (for Allan). Her work exemplified the all-in-one language for the couple. Where SOFA Chicago accelerated their reach in collecting, the international art fair circuit continues to expand access to national and international craft artists. They have been so impacted by the Art Basel Miami, for example, that they purchased property in Miami and never miss a fair.
David Goldburg as guide in Chicago is just one example of how many influential trips and conversations the Nachman’s have had with collecting guides, be they artists, gallerists, or scholars, and it speaks to the communal aspect of shared exploration and ongoing learning over time which creates a force-field into which collections are born and the emergence of sense assumes forms of its own as the collection becomes in an important way organic and so itself capable of spontaneity. The formation of affective and initiatory relationships – the friendships of artists, guides, gallerists, and fellow collectors – inevitably comes to mirror, impact, and articulate the already existing relationships latent within the network of vessel forms and the collection. This communion of guides allows for self-discovery to unfold over time, giving space for understanding and all the benefits that accompany the state of embodied appreciation. In his book, Making, anthropologist Tim Ingold, whose fundamental thesis is that making creates knowledge, builds environments and transforms lives, argues that “the only way one can really know things – that is, from the very inside of one’s being – is through the process of self-discovery. To know things you have to grow into them, and let them grow in you, so that they become a part of who you are. […] The mere provision of information holds no guarantee of knowledge, let alone of understanding.”((Tim Ingold, “Knowing from the Inside,” Making (London: Routledge, 2013), 1.)) Anyone who is close to an art collector knows that the collection/collecting, becomes a way of life, not merely a hobby or activity, and further that the process, people and objects sculpt the very life of the collector, for the medium shared between artwork existing in a network or collection and the collector is life itself. It is a creative and identifying practice. Joy and Allan clearly note that several galleries have been key in their construction of quality, aesthetic, and an understanding of the market. To be a collector, then, is to be teachable, and willing to be part of a larger conversation the outcome of which is the continuation of a process without end…
The California gallery, Del Mano, introduced them to many wood artists who would become the most significant in their collection- William Hunter, Ron Layport, Mike Shuler, Michael Mode and Peter Petrochko, to name a few. They understood well by this time the significance of nurturing relationships with artists, gallerists, and other collectors. Commissioning work from artists also became a new way of relating to artists and fleshing out the collection with works they imagined, but could not find. They collected Toshiko Takaezu at Pewabic Pottery, a historic Detroit mid-century pottery famous for its tile work which has been an important venue. From a similar pottery in Flemmington, New Jersey, Joy and Allan also collected fifteen pieces in the 1990’s of Fulper Pottery from the early 1900’s. Nancy Hoffman of the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, a friend and guide, introduced them to the work of Viola Frey, from whom they purchased a large oil pastel in 1990. Over the years Joy and Allan have continued to collect Betty Woodman, and Beatrice Wood (a one hundred and five old godmother of pottery and Dada) whose works Joy claims as her favorite in the collection. With its shimmering opalescent surface and folk-dancer formal qualities Joy describes it as feminine in form and color. Joy also links an early collected beaded basket from Racine Art Museum, by Jaenette Ahlgren as another of her favorites, a form at once open, geometric, and colorful.
Sometimes more intriguing than what is kept in a collection is what is jettisoned. Shifting from painting toward three-dimensional works, the Nachmans commissioned a wall hanging from a weaver in Caracas, Venezuela, known for their wool productions. Allan’s sister had lived there at the time. An early piece that remains central to the living space from the mid-1970’s is a marble piece by Carol Brenner. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Joy and Allan discovered The West, therefore, fine craft. They described the Joanne Rapp Gallery /The Hand and the Sprit Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and how an entire era of collecting was built around this gallery – they may have found their collecting language, or process, or maybe their medium at Hand and Spirit. The West seemed to have provided the first intimations they were in possession of a collector’s language. The West brought them Ed Moulthrop as a point of entry – a Princeton trained architect-cum woodturner, one of a three-generation woodturning family. Moulthrop is credited with being the father of modern woodturning and stocked his visual archive with trips to Paris, London, and Switzerland as well as a brief time as a student of watercolor in Fontainebleau, a forested weekend getaway for Parisians. His influences and sensibility reflected the Nachman’s and mirrored Allan’s early form attraction. Joy’s friends teased them over the years, “Why all the wood, too round! Too brown!” She cherished the forms, but sought works that would bring color to the collection through baskets and ceramic vessels.
Travel between galleries, with mentors, and friends, has shaped the collection’s demographic. Trips to the Riva Yares Gallery, for example, shuttered in 2005, provided ground to collect Norman Bluhm, now owned by the Nachman’s son, David. The evolution of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott ceramic work lead to a trip to Australia and the encounter with Karen O’Clery, who exposed the Nachmans to
sleek forms, also in the vein of straight-sided white and neutral toned pots, her inclination leaning toward design and industrial fabrication.
The Nachmans attribute much of their direction in collecting to several key institutions, one being the Detroit Institute of Art, specifically the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art for which Allan served as chair from 2013-2014. They credit this exposure to acquiring a taste for more textural ceramic surfaces such as the work of Ken Price, and Linda Benglis, and to moving back into monochrome, but with a Netherlandish flare as seen in their installation work by Marie T. Hermann, a rising Danish star, Detroit-based potter, and former studio assistant to Edmund de Waal.
Upper Left; Jun Kaneko, Stoneware platters, 1988.
Upper left; Dona Look, Birch basket, 1992. Upper center; Betty Woodman, Earthenware Pillow Pitcher, 1987. Upper right pair, Robert Howard, Cedar Vessels; Middle shelf grouping of five, William Hunter, Cocobolo Wood Vessels, c.1997-c.2001. Lower left, Ken Carlson, Copper Basket, 1991. Lower middle, Ann Van Hoey, Earthenware Vessels, 2012. Lower Right, Linda Benglis, Clay, 2014.
Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010. Viola Frey, Polyptych lll, 1990. Foreground; Toshiko Takaezu, Clay, c.1997.
Upper right self; Anders Ruhwald, Clay, 2014.
Right, Jeanette Ahlgren, Cheatham Grove, 2007. Woven glass bead basket.
On the influence of the gallerist / artist relationship in the training of the sensibility of a collector we may invoke, once more, Tim Ingold who makes the argument that anthropology is to ethnography what learning-with is to learning-from: In anthropology, then, we go to study with people. And we hope to learn from them. What we might call ‘research’ or even ‘fieldwork’ is in truth a protracted masterclass in which the novice gradually learns to see things, and to hear and feel them too, in the ways his or her mentors do. It is in short, to what the ecological psychologist James Gibson calls an education of attention.((Ingold, “Knowing from the Inside,” 2.))
At a local art fair Allan and Joy met Indiana farmer / woodturner Charlie Hutson, who urged Allan to call Rude Osolnik, a well-known woodturner in Berea, Kentucky, to see if he could head South to learn basic woodturning and Osolnik in turn hosted a three-day tutorial.. For those of you out of the wood loop, this is like calling up Michelangelo to see if he’d teach you to mix paint. And he says, “sure, come on down.” This intimate encounter tipped off a rich exchange of meetings and intimate mini-conventions between wood artists, gallerists, and collectors at homes and studios.
NACHMANS’ IMPACT ON WOOD ART
In the contemporary art world right now, it seems every video artist and social practitioner is a ceramic artist as well as clay no longer represents the underclass of the artworld and everyone is trying their hand at chunky pots or community installations (and here one need only think of the meal / dinner in contemporary art practice). But if potters felt unseen by “fine artists” for the last hundred years, they haven’t spoken with a wood artist lately. The community of wood artists was unorganized, unrecognized, and under-collected still late into the late 1980’s. The Nachmans have contributed significantly to contemporary craft through their collaborative role in convening the first association of collectors of wood art. Allan and Joy Nachman are founding members of the Collectors of Wood Art (CWA) who self- organized in the late 1990’s. In fall of 1997, Robyn and John Horn invited one hundred top wood collectors, artists, and gallerists to her home in Little Rock, Arkansas for a weekend of intense dining, conversation, and an instant gallery (which turned into a collector’s feeding frenzy), the goal being to elevate the culture surrounding wood art. The Nachmans and Ron and Anita Wornick, and twenty others formed the founding steering committee that determined the group’s priorities. This founding board held a common belief that the role of gallerist was the critical bridge between the artist and collector that created and stabilized the art market, and for this reason they vowed to support the esteem of wood art and the field continues to thrive.
Joy and Allan Nachman, 2016.
The Contemporary Moment
In comparison to Marie T. Hermann’s paired back forms in a palette of a thousand whites, the carved work of Robert Howard represents the most embellished work, fluted with curves, almost too much for Joy who maintains her preference for simple form. But, she says this with a full size beaded Nick Cave Soundsuit staring over my shoulder in hyperactive polychrome. What is the bridge from the leached seal skin Richard DeVore vessel on the shelf to the Nick Cave? Joy persists that even the Cave is classical, and refined. I do buy that it is refined, but related, I’m not sure. I think something more interesting is going on here, the next thread of their sensibility as collectors. Like all good artists, the Nachmans are standing at the edge of their next collecting chapter, this article is a time stamp that ten years will make more interesting reading. The Nachmans have been looking and joining forces with objects now for nearly 40 years. It is now that we can see before us what Tim Ingold speaks of as the learner/collector who has moved into correspondence with their works.((Cf. Ingold, “Knowing from the Inside,” 7.)) It is a dialogical union as opposed to a knowledge gained by way of the simple amassing of objects, and is beautiful to witness. It is also, I believe, the vibration one feels when witnessing a collector’s clarity of voice. In the Nachmans’ next collecting chapter, I would anticipate more color, and forms that fall out of the round or brown category, but it will be related to the vessel if in concept only, but we can rely on these works to complicate and extend the language of craft as sense and sensibility.