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Monograph documents life and career of Kresge Eminent Artist Marie Woo


“Wonder and Flow,” a lushly illustrated monograph on the life and career of ceramicist, scholar and educator Marie Woo, the 2020 Kresge Eminent Artist, is now available for download. Print copies can be requested here while supplies last.

Woo is the 12th artist to receive the award for a lifetime of contributions to his or her chosen art form and the cultural communities of metro Detroit. The honor includes a $50,000 no-strings-attached award and the creation of the monograph by The Kresge Foundation.

Kresge President Rip Rapson, in launching the monograph during a virtual presentation on Friday, put Woo’s art in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd.

“The centered patience, the clarity, the life force in Marie Woo’s work is, in its own way, art of the moment,” said Rapson. He went on to describe Woo as an artist who “grounds our sense of beauty, connects to the past, connects us to the earth, and expands our sense of what is possible for the future.”

The artist with Scarab Club Executive Director MaryAnn Wilkinson during a recent video taping for the opening of “Marie Woo: Clay Quest.”

Friday’s virtual presentation combined the launch of the monograph with the official opening of “Marie Woo: Clay Quest,” at Detroit’s Scarab Club, a venerable city institution of more than a hundred years. The 30-piece retrospective of Woo’s 70-year career ranges from traditional vessel forms to sculptures, wall hangings and an installation in which video is projected onto a massive wall-mounted ceramic serving as a screen. It also includes examples of Chinese folk pottery Woo has collected, a major area of her scholarship.

MaryAnn Wilkinson, Scarab Club executive director, describes the show as “a small retrospective of a great body of work.”

“Her elegant and subtle ceramics question the traditional functional nature of pottery through her own constantly evolving artistic language,” Wilkinson writes on the Scarab website.

A spread from “Wonder and Flow.”

The exhibition is open to the public through Nov. 14.

At 112 pages, “Wonder and Flow” is the most thorough documentation of Woo’s work to date.

Created by editor Nichole Christian and art director Patrick Barber in partnership with Kresge’s Communications Department, the monograph includes an overview of Woo’s life and career, tributes from fellow ceramicists, an intimate reflection by Woo’s daughter (Leslie Raymond), and an essay by Woo recounting her travels to China to document and preserve vanishing folk pottery traditions.

This untitled piece, informally referred to as “stacked plates,” is in both the monograph and the exhibit.

The monograph also displays dozens of examples of Woo’s ceramics, photos with her family and fellow artists, and photos of her research travels to China.

Describing Woo’s work in her lead essay, Christian writes:

Woo’s creations — pots, bowls, elegant circular sculptural objects, and wall pieces — are so fiercely guided by intuition that most defy description, including her own. Some say there is a spirit, or at least a spiritual feeling, alive in her touch, a transmission of vitality hidden in her fingers sent straight from her heart. … She is a lifelong artist who insists “I never thought of making a lifetime of work. I just kept my hands in the clay. Everything is an experiment.” Yet few experimenters have reaped the wellspring of satisfaction and list of rewards that Woo’s work has garnered. Woo started her journey into clay in the 1950s. Decades later she is hailed as a respected educator, researcher, curator, glaze alchemist and Chinese folk pottery preservationist.

Christian says that the challenge of the book was to reflect the experience of interacting with Woo.

“I found myself walking away from my first conversation with this sense of wonder … and it never left,” said Christian.