Author Tags: Anthropology, Art, First Nations

During her three decades of publicizing other artists and their work, Paula Gustafson avoided having photographs taken of herself for publicity purposes. That’s why Paula Gustafson’s third and final volume of essays, Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse (Ronsdale $26.95), does not provide any image of the ever-industrious editor. Instead, in a dignified afterword, co-editor Nisse Gustafson has offererd a patchwork quilt of memories of her multi-talented mother.

“When I was about five years old, my mother began working with textiles,” she writes. “The scent of lanolin from newly sheared wool permeated the house, and my little hands were put to use carding it to take out the chaff.

“I also fondly remember foraging through the wilds to gather goldenrod, lichen, cattails and chestnuts, which my mother stewed in a crockpot to make natural dyes.

“When the wool was dyed and dried, she spun it by hand on an old-fashioned wooden spinning wheel that went ‘thunkety-thunkety-thunk’ as she worked the foot treadle.

“Later I would watch as the big balls of wool yarn were deftly transformed into sweaters, scarves and tapestries by my mother's able hands....

“One glorious summer she took a bronze casting course in Red Deer. For weeks, the old crockpot was filled with warm beeswax, which she sculpted into seed pod-shaped vessels to be cast in bronze.
“To this day, I love the smell of beeswax, not only for its sweet aroma, but also for the memories it evokes of my mother sculpting wax forms on the picnic table in our back yard.... All of these sensory experiences have stayed with me, and in many ways have influenced who I am.”
Although Gustafson’s craftmanship extended to pottery, watercolour painting, textiles, spinning, bronze casting and paper-making, her first love was always writing.

“The sound of her electric typewriter was a constant clickety-clack,” Nisse recalls. “In later years she replaced it with a succession of computers, the keyboards of which had to be replaced every second year because she wore down the plastic keys with so much typing.”

A recipient of the first Jean A. Chalmers Fund for the Crafts Award for critical writing on Canadian crafts, Paula Gustafson wrote more than 300 articles for arts magazines and served as the editor and co-designer of an illustrated biography by artist John Koerner.

More importantly, Paula Gustafson co-founded Artichoke: Writings about the Visual Arts in 1989 and became its sole editor and publisher in 1995. After its demise due to financial constraints in 2005, she edited Calgary-based Galleries West magazine.

Gustafson’s first monograph, Salish Weaving (Douglas & McIntyre, 1980), was based on her extensive research in museums in Europe and North America. She also produced a history of the Crafts Association of British Columbia called Mapping the Terrain.

Born in Abbotsford on Feb. 25, 1941, Paula Gustafson died on July 11, 2006 after a brief battle with cancer. She was widely respected for her breadth of appreciation for the arts, not mired within any particular discipline or camp.
To accompany more than 40 full-colour photos of works in various craft media, Craft Perception and Practice Vol. III contains 21 essays by artists such as Mackenzie Frčre, Ruth Scheuing and Murray Gibson; theorists such as Paul Mathieu, Sandra Alfoldy,

Arlene Oak and Kirsty Robertson.
Paula Gustafson's own contribution records the creation of Stardale Women’s Group, a weaving cooperative that was established to foster healing and self-esteem amongst Cree women who live in and near Melfort, Saskatchewan.

Shannon Stratton’s provocative essay, Getting Things Done: On Needlecraft & Free Time suggests that knitting is a radically subversive activity in an era that emphasizes materialism and speed.
Inadvertently akin to the “slow food” movement, public knitters are steadfastly non-efficient reminders that meditative and constructive activities can serve as antidotes to the established socioeconomic order.

“It important to realize,” Stratton writes, “that knitters are, by and large, NOT professional activists or political artists; nor should they have to be....

“Perhaps what makes knitting important is its stubbornness. It refuses to be pinned down. It is neither an economically efficient way to clothe people, nor are knitters overtly challenging oppression and stopping war with fuzzy scarves. But what it does undo, one stitch at a time, is the idea that efficiency is a cultural value.”
Craft Perception and Practice was co-edited with Amy Gogarty.

Craft Perception, Vol. 3: 978-1-55380-052-1


Salish Weaving (Douglas & McIntyre/University of Washington Press, 1980).

Craft Perception and Practice, Vol. 1 (Ronsdale, 2002)

Craft Perception and Practice, Vol. 2 (Ronsdale, 2005)

Craft Perception and Practice, Vol. 3 (Ronsdale 2008). Co-edited with Nisse Gustafson and Amy Gogarty. $26.95 978-1-55380-052-1

[BCBW 2008] "Art" "Anthropology" "First Nations"

Paula Gustafson
Memorial Tribute (2006)

from Nisse Gustafson

It takes a lot of gumption to start an arts magazine in Canada. Few among us have the expertise and the vision to create a world-class magazine, and even fewer have the perseverance to make it a success.

My mother, Paula Gustafson, did just that. For 16 years, Artichoke magazine highlighted the creativity of our nation's artists, reaching readers across Canada and throughout the international community. This award-winning magazine featured outstanding writing about Canadian visual art and artists, filling a valuable niche in the Canadian cultural landscape.

Not only was she the publisher and editor of Artichoke, Paula was also a prolific writer, artist, mentor and advocate. Her unrivalled talents as editor and her ability to keep the integrity of Artichoke magazine's vision intact earned her the respect of both the arts and academic communities. This combination of intelligence and diligence enabled Artichoke to attract the very best writers from every region of the country, and opened pathways for aspiring authors to get excited about writing about visual art and Fine Craft.

Paula was a tireless advocate for Craft, and did much to bring about a new perspective for Craft to be regarded in the same category as Fine Art. She gave lectures, served as advisor to individuals and non-profit organizations, wrote articles and published books about craft, as well as published three special editions of Artichoke magazine which showcased contemporary Canadian Craft. (Yes, Craft with a capital C. She always said it deserved it.)

Contemporary craft was further explored in her series of books, Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Volume 1 of which was published in 2002, with Volume 2 following in 2005. For these books, Paula compiled critical essays by established writers and contributed some of her own writing to document craft practice and also to initiate discussion and critical analysis of craft art in Canada.

Paula had a special knack for mentoring new writers. Since 1995, she actively engaged in mentorship with writers of various backgrounds. She earned their loyalty and trust through exemplary business practices and sharp, skillful editing, ensuring that they continued to submit articles for publication in Artichoke throughout the years, and also submitted essays for the craft books.

Sharing her experience in the Canadian publishing industry and her extensive knowledge of art and craft, Paula traveled all over Canada to give lectures and to take part in forums. She was a guest lecturer in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, and Saskatoon, and was involved in conferences on craft, art, and publishing topics throughout BC and Alberta during the last ten years.

Paula wrote and edited several books. Her first book, Salish Weaving, was published in 1980. After conducting extensive first-hand research at museums across North America and Europe, Paula made a name for herself as an expert on First Nations textiles, and was one of the very first to bring the beauty and craftsmanship of First Nations art to the public eye in a prominent way.

Most recently Paula completed the second volume of Craft: Perception and Practice, and edited A Brush with Life, an autobiography of Vancouver artist, John Koerner. She also edited and handbound a limited edition chapbook by Barbara Ponomareff about French still life painter, Jean Simeon Chardin, called A Minor Genre.

In addition to her experience in writing and publishing, Paula made many valuable contributions to the arts community. She lent her wisdom as a consultant to emerging artists, assisting them with portfolios, marketing and professional advice. As a visual arts critic for regional, national and international publications, she always spoke her mind. Though at times blunt, she was always honest, and felt it was equally important to be frank when the art was not up to par as it was to give credit where credit was due. She didn't give in to hype. Her opinion mattered.

Her own artistic endeavours were uniquely Paula. She began as a potter in the 1960s, and had a successful pottery studio in Nassau, Bahamas. In the 70s, after moving back to Canada from the States with my sister and I, she had her second pottery studio on our lovely farm in Yarrow, BC. These were the happiest years for all of us. Paula also began exploring the world of textiles during this time, making her own natural dyes for the handspun wool she made into woven tapestries and knitted garments.

Later, during the 1980s, she tried her hand at watercolour painting and botanical drawing, which she excelled at. Over the years she furthered her artistic knowledge by exploring bronze casting, glassblowing, and crafting jewellery and handmade paper. Paula spent several summers taking part in courses at Series at Red Deer College, which she thoroughly enjoyed. In 1989 she went on an excursion along the Oldman River in Alberta with several prominent artists, including the late Tony Onley and his wife, Yukiko, who took the beautiful photo which accompanies this tribute.

She loved all of nature's wonders. Her special favorites were dragonflies, blue herons, sea turtles, seed pods, mushrooms and flowers of all varieties. Paula also loved the ocean. The majority of her artwork was based on natural themes, and often incorporated her treasured 'specimens' which she collected whenever she went walkabout.

Paula spent six months traveling around Central and Southeastern Australia, with the special quest of going to see Ayers Rock. She came back with stories and wonderful memories, and made a series of colourful paintings which captured her experiences there.

She moved to Vancouver from Calgary in 1992. From her humble apartment in the West End, Paula brought forth her magazine four times a year, and wrote and edited books which continue to resonate both locally and throughout the global community. She was known in Vancouver's arts community as a passionate advocate, a forthright critic, and an outstanding editor and publisher.

What you may not have known is that she was also a mother and grandmother. She was a great baker and cook, loved good food and good conversation, and handknit the most beautiful, warm wool socks ever made. She was an avid reader, and particularly enjoyed the mystery novels of Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey, John LeCarre's spy novels, and the quirky humour of Douglas Adams. In addition to news and current affairs shows, she also loved Monty Python, and liked to watch movies based on books, such as Pride & Prejudice, A Town Like Alice, and Out of Africa. Her favourite movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was showing on TV during her final hour.

Paula will be greatly missed. She touched the lives of many, and gave so much of herself to this world. The legacy of her words and her art, and the memory of her special wisdom, tenacity, and strength of character will always remain.

She inspired us all. It is because of her that I became a writer myself. She taught me the love of words, the savoury joy of a great phrase, the importance of integrity, humour and all things literary. She always encouraged me to make art and to challenge myself. In writing this tribute, I feel it only touches the surface of who my mother was and what she accomplished, and leaves out so much. I can only hope that you've had the opportunity to have met her, perhaps had some correspondence with her, or read her articles, magazines and books.

During the last few months, Paula was the editor for Galleries West magazine. A consummate professional, she continued working until just a week before her death. The results of her efforts can be read in the fall issue, to be published in September.

She had one last request that she wanted to express; her 'dying wish' as it were. Recently she finished reading a book that she would like to recommend to anyone interested in the history and significance of Canadian crafts. This book is Crafting Identity by Sandra Alfoldy, published in 2005 by McGill-Queen's University Press, ISBN 0-7735-2860-1. Never one to offer praise lightly, she found it to be not only accurate and comprehensive in all areas, but also extremely well written.

In 2003, Paula was the recipient of the Board of Governor's Award of Excellence from the Alberta College of Art in recognition for her contributions to the arts. Her speech at the convocation ceremony summarizes her convictions:

"… if I may, I'd like to take a moment to turn the spotlight to everyone who contributes time and energy to sustaining the arts — whatever way we do it. Those of us who make art also have the responsibility of being its stewards — of committing ourselves not only to achieving our individual goals, but to ensuring our arts organizations remain vital — to participating in cultural events — to encouraging and mentoring young artists, and — to remind our politicians, regularly, that art isn't about the bottom line — it's a hallmark of civilized society. Our success is measured not in what we get, but in what we give."

If you would like to write a comment or share a memory of Paula with us, you can contact either myself or my sister, Mickey, at the following:

Nisse Gustafson