Humble Grace: A Tribute to Frances Senska

March 19, 2010 - June 27, 2010

This small exhibition is a tribute to Frances Senska, an important Montana artist and educator.  Senska was championed for her lifelong devotion to the ceramic arts, for her prolific career and for nurturing several of the twentieth century’s leading ceramists.

She was elected an Honorary Member of the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts in 1979 and Fellow of the American Craft Council in 1988.  Frances Senska made humble, deceptively ordinary objects with no pretenses to making high art.  Instead, despite her modernist training, she dedicated her creative energies to making utilitarian objects that she hoped would find there way into people’s everyday lives.

Senska was born in Cameroon, Africa and settled in the USA with her missionary parents in 1929.  She initially studied industrial design, receiving a BA in 1935 and an MA in 1939, both from the University of Iowa and then taught art for three years at Grinnell College, Iowa until 1942.  Around 1940 she attended Bauhaus master Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s (1895-1946) School of Design in Chicago.  Senska served in the US Navy from 1942-46, during which she was able to study under potter Edith Heath (1911 – 2005) at the California Labor School around 1944.  She then attended various summer classes, under Maija Grotell (1899 – 1973) at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1946) and under Margaret Wildenhain (1896 – 1985) at her Pond Farm studio (1950).

She taught at Montana State University (MSU), Bozeman from 1946-73, where Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos were among her students.  In 1951 she assisted in the construction of the pottery building at the Archie Bray Foundation, where Voulkos and Autio became founding resident artists.

Senska was a founding member of the Montana Institute of the Arts (MIA) in 1948, Crafts Chair from 1954-56 and Director from 1961-62.  She was elected a Fellow of the MIA in 1964 and received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at MSU in 1982.  Senska received the Montana Governor’s Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts in 1988 and the Meloy-Stevenson Award of Distinction for Outstanding Service to the Archie Bray Foundation in 2003.

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