On Testing Boundaries
There are only a few days left to see Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings, which closes on Saturday, May 21. As it wraps, we caught up Christina Hutchings to discuss working on the exhibition and the impact that it has had on her understanding of both her mother’s work and her own.
BNG: Thank you for your generosity in opening up Nancy’s archives, and your own, for this exhibition. What has working on it been like for you?
CH: Sharing my mother’s archive with the Bermuda National Gallery for this exhibition has been a journey of discovery. I’ve gained an understanding and deep appreciation for her long career as a pioneering artist, designer, collector and founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NWMA) in Washington DC.
As a child in the 1950s I didn’t understand that Nancy was an exceptional artist. She was simply my mother, who every day went to her studio to make things. As an adult, I have a great admiration for her pioneering use of new materials in the 1950s, her work as a designer of fiberglass screens and chairs in the 1960s and her talent as a painter, particularly in regard to her selection of subject matter and use of colour. I’ve also come to appreciate her insightful eye and talents as a collector and the important role that she played as a founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
In looking through my own archives and sending images to Eve (Godet Thomas, Director of Programming and Engagement) and Peter (Lapsley, Executive Director), as they crafted the exhibition, my understanding of the common threads that they saw between my mother’s work and my own broadened and I have been happily surprised.
It has been a privilege working on the exhibition with the BNG team.
BNG: Nancy was making artwork at a time when there were very few visible women artists. What do you think drove her to create and to continually innovate?
CH: I don’t think that my mother thought of herself as a trailblazer. She was simply driven by her own internal creative forces. Her energetic, open, curious, and creative temperament prompted her in all aspects of her life, including her artwork.
BNG: Nancy was a founding member of the National Museum for Women in the Arts, which was the first museum dedicated solely to the work of female artists. She also assembled an important collection of works by women silversmiths (which is now in the permanent collection of the NWMA) along with a collection of botanical illustrations by female artists. Were you aware of how much she championed female artists when you were a child?
CH: As a child I was not at all aware that Nancy was a champion of women artists. By the 1970s, with the dawn of the feminist movement there was more of an awareness of the disparities between men and women, in art and in life. She may have had this in mind when she decided to focus solely on woman silversmiths to collect. There was also the fact, at that time, works by female silversmiths sold at auction were lower in price, even as they were as good or better than comparable work by male silversmiths
BNG: Did her advocacy for the feminist movement shape your own career path in any way?
CH: As far as I know, she didn’t adopt a feminist political position. She generally didn’t take on controversy and succeeded without taking a political position.
However, her determination to take on challenges and to be self-sufficient was a good example to me and informed my belief that I had to be able to support myself. This belief prompted my career choice to study architecture. It was important that this was in a field that was close to, and would contribute to, my interest in art. It was important that one interest should inform the other.
BNG: One thing that stood out when researching the exhibition is the fact that both you and Nancy share a dedicated daily studio practice. This can be a very difficult thing for an artist to establish and to sustain. Is this something that has always been important to you?
CH: My mother always had a working studio in our house. As a child, I loved being in her studio and watching her as she worked with resin making screens. I would often go into her studio and make something even if she wasn’t in there, I loved her studio space. It was filled with materials and possibilities.
My studio is an important place for me because it is like an open sketch book. It is filled with works in progress, materials and coloured papers juxtaposed. Like a sketch book, these studio materials in random juxtapositions suggest ideas for new works. I have always had a studio in every place I have lived.
BNG: How do you maintain momentum when it comes to making artwork part of your daily routine?
CH: The momentum of practicing art making daily varies for me. I’m most happy when I am focused and, in the studio, working on a project. I don’t always maintain momentum but to help sustain momentum the first thing that I do in the morning is to look in the studio to see if there is something that surprises me or suggests a way forward. Usually there is something that catches my eye, and the momentum can be maintained.
BNG: Both you and Nancy cross the boundaries between fine art and design – Nancy with her decorative screens and the production of a set of fiberglass furniture in the early 1960s, and you with your architectural work in NYC and, more recently, large installations for several Bermuda Biennials. How and why do you move between one discipline and the other? Does one inform the other and vice versa?
CH: I move between design and fine art because I enjoy both disciplines. I love the process of seeing how a drawing on paper can transform an idea into a built project. For me, fine art and design inform one another in many ways and especially with their reliance on drawing. The drawing methods used in preparing for a design project are applicable to the production of an art installation. Both require an idea or program to start, sketches, measured design drawings and details to describe how to build the idea.
BNG: Why do think this transition was also important to Nancy?
CH: I don’t think my mother saw any distinction between her design work and her fine art practice. I think that she just went full steam ahead in everything she did and especially in her creative work.
BNG: Has the exhibition changed your view of Nancy’s work, or indeed your own, in any way?
CH: I was delighted to come to understand my mother’s body of work as a whole for the first time and to discover the commonalities between our work. My body of work is not complete, and I have drawn inspiration from this exhibition that will further inform my own work.
I would like to extend my gratitude and sincere thanks to BNG and particularly Eve and Peter for their insightful conception of and stunning presentation of the exhibition.
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings closes on May 21.