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Edwin and Mary Scheier: Mid-century Modern New Hampshire Artists

April 30 - October 2, 2015


Visitors to Discover Portsmouth will step into a world of art and craft that began during the Depression in New Hampshire as a result of two pioneering partnerships; one, between the state government of New Hampshire and the University of New Hampshire which offered financial support for craft education and marketing, and a lifelong partnership (a "seven decade love story" -- Ken Browne) between Ed and Mary Scheier, two internationally known potters who made significant contributions to the American Craft movement and whose work is on display at museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Currier Museum of Art, American Craft Museum and the University of New Hampshire Special Collections.

A private/ticketed Gala Opening was held April 30, 2015. The free exhibits are open daily from Friday May 1 to Thursday October 2, 2015 at Discover Portsmouth (10 Middle Street, Portsmouth, NH), the first floor main exhibit will feature the dynamic work of these "pioneers of the modern studio pottery movement" (New York Times) while the second floor exhibit will provide context to the Scheiers work by highlighting two organizations that were indispensable to their careers -- the New Hampshire Art Association, now celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (founded in 1932.)


Pioneering partnership -- state & university support for arts/crafts during Depression

"First in the nation status doesn't just refer to our presidential primary but to the state's financial support of the arts in the Depression," explains Richard Candee, President of the Portsmouth Historical Society Board of Trustees. "Governor John Gilbert Winant successfully urged the NH Legislature to support the fledgling League of NH Craftsmen in 1933 which would boost the economy through small craft industries (including Portsmouth Home Industries established that year). The Governor and Council's support of educational training, exhibition of art, and marketing of NH art and crafts all contributed to New Hampshire's mid-century reputation as a highpoint of the creative economy and to its special reputation as a haven for artists and craftsmen." 

Candee continues, "Later, in the 40s that same nurturing spirit continued as League Director David Campbell recruited top craftsmen like the Scheiers from across the country to move to and work here in the state, with the support of the University of New Hampshire. The Scheiers work and their involvement in both the NHAA and the League are part of our arts and crafts legacy today. Between the artists the Scheiers owned on the walls of their Durham home and those in the retrospectives, there will be more mid-century modern art of the 40s to 60s than has been seen in the seacoast since that time."


Main floor exhibit

What visitors will see are Mary's "bread and butter" functional pottery objects and Ed's ceramic sculpture, both from local clays that they found and dug out themselves (an early nod to sustainability). In addition, Ed's paintings, prints, textiles and sculptures will be on display -- all of which reflect his repeated investigation of primal themes and myths. The couple worked side by side throughout their entire careers "a seven decade love story" of "two people working as one" (Ken Browne) 

The exhibition includes more than 80 examples of the Scheiers' art from a dozen institutions and private collections. Central to this are the University of New Hampshire collections and the Currier Museum of Art, which inherited the Scheier estate. "While the focus is on Scheiers' Mid-Century New Hampshire years, we've gathered examples of their full careers as artists. The life and art of these two remarkable people is a great New Hampshire story, and we hope it delights and inspires!" explains Dale Valena, guest curator.



About the Scheiers

Edwin Scheier (1910-2008) was born in New York City. Following early training and apprenticeship in jewelry design and production, he worked as an industrial designer. During the Depression, he taught crafts in New York State's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program and started a puppet troupe. While working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) crafts program, Edwin met Mary Goldsmith, who was working in the art division of the WPA as the Director of a Crafts School in Virginia. The couple married in 1937, and Mary joined Edwin as a puppeteer along the East Coast. He went on to direct the Anderson County Federal Art Center in Norris, Tennessee in the late 30s. In Norris, they learned about pottery and glazes at the TVA Ceramics Laboratory where they used the facilities at night in exchange for monitoring the kilns; they kept their day jobs. In 1938 they opened their own pottery studio in Glade Spring, Virginia. 

Mary Scheier (1908-2007) was born in Salem, Virginia, and at age 15, moved to New York City, encouraged by an aunt who lived there. She enrolled in the Art Students League, the Grand Central School of Art and the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. She then went to Paris, France briefly and worked in advertising before returning to NYC and to her home state of Virginia. 

After they were recruited to New Hampshire by David Campbell, they moved to Durham in 1940, and for the next 20 years, Ed taught at the University of New Hampshire, while Mary was an Artist-in-Residence. During this time, they traveled to Puerto Rico to assist in establishing a ceramics industry, and to Europe (chiefly Spain) and Mexico and took inspiration for their work from their travels. Between 1968 and 1978, they lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, where Ed explored his familiar themes through printmaking, encaustics, and woodcarving, and designed weavings made by local Zapotec weavers. In 1978, they moved to Green Valley, Arizona where Ed resumed his work in clay and ink jet printing.  

As a pioneer in the techniques of modern studio pottery, Mary Scheier worked side by side with her husband, and was known for utilitarian pots highlighted by his skillfully applied glazes. In addition to thrown pottery, they made small sculptures from local clay, and some of these pieces resembled Sung Dynasty-era pottery. The rebirth of human and animals was a recurring theme in their work. The Scheier's work is represented in some 30 museum collections in the US and Canada, Italy and Japan. They died in their late 90s in 2007 and 2008.


Retrospectives exhibit

The second floor (or balcony) exhibit provides the regional context for the Scheiers work by focusing on two organizations indispensable to the Scheier's careers. Ed Scheier was active in the New Hampshire Art Association (now celebrating its 75th year) and both Scheiers were employed by the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. The retrospective exhibit's focus is also on the mid-century years, from 1940 to the late 1960s, when Mary and Ed lived and worked in New Hampshire, and explores many of the contemporary artists and craftsmen of their day who belonged to both organizations.  

The work of dozens of well-known (Paul Sample, Fannie Hillsmith, Omer Lassonde and John  Laurent) and nearly forgotten artists of the WPA -- who provided several of the earliest presidents of the fledgling art association -- have been gathered for this exhibition. Of this mid-century generation many, like Ed Scheier himself, studied painting with Hans Hoffman. Many early members of the New Hampshire Art Association -- such as William Holst, Bartlett Tracy, Glen Krause, Jeanette Genius and Virginia Mortenson Francis -- taught art in NH or were summer artists who helped plant the seeds of modernism in the Granite State. Many artists -- print makers, silversmiths, jewelers, sculptors, and weavers belonged to both organizations, or had a spouse who belonged to the League.  

The exhibits are in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Art Association and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Maryellen Burke, Executive Director of The Portsmouth Historical Society notes, "As always, we work in collaboration to bring an important cultural story to the Seacoast.  This year we're pleased to strengthen our ties to University of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Arts Association and The League. We couldn't do it without them."


Selected programs at Discover Portsmouth

Thursday June 25 -- Keynote on Ed & Mary Scheier by Michael K. Komanecky, Chief Curator, Farnsworth Art Museum and author of American Potters: Mary and Edwin Scheier, gave a keynote about the extraordinary couple

Thursday July 23 -- Award Winning Producer and Editor, Ken Browne, joins Discover Portsmouth for a screening of his documentaries Four Hands One Heart (about the Scheiers) and A League of Their Own (about the League of NH Craftsmen)

Friday August 7 -- Collectors Panel and reception: A dynamic discussion with several Scheier collectors during New Hampshire Antique Week. 


Resource Library editor's note

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and biographical information on selected artists cited in this article in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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