Object of the Week: Maki’s Shoulder Bag, by Marilyn Levine

Born in Alberta, Canada, Marilyn Levine developed an interest in math and science as a child and earned Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in chemistry before committing to a career in the arts. Unable to find a teaching job after finishing graduate school, she began studying art part time at the University of Regina, and by the late 1960s, she was successfully exhibiting ceramics throughout Canada. In 1969, Levine moved to the California Bay Area, where she studied at the University of California Berkeley under master ceramist Peter Voulkos and received a Master of Arts in 1970 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1971. At UC Berkeley, Levine began making the tromp l’oeil (deceive the eye) ceramic sculptures that she would create for the rest of her career. After a friend brought her a pair of old, beat-up work shoes to reproduce in clay, Levine became interested in how everyday inanimate objects act as records of human experiences. She started recreating leather goods in stoneware, developing such a skilled technique that viewers often had to touch the finished object in order to determine that it was in fact clay. Her meticulously detailed ceramic replicas of leather luggage, gloves, handbags, shoes, hats, and jackets all show signs of wear and tear, as if they have been heavily used. These traces of human touch—holes, rips, stains, scuffmarks, and scratches—speak to the lives of the original objects’ owners and the inevitable passage of time. The works are nostalgic, capturing with clay an impression of who the owner was and the life they lived. In 1978, the Everson organized Nine West Coast Clay Sculptors, an exhibition featuring work by important West coast-based ceramists who created innovative and unique sculptures. Seven of Levine’s sculptures were chosen for the exhibition, including Maki’s Shoulder Bag, which can be seen in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph below. Levine’s Hanging Bag with Rope Strap is also visible in the photograph, hanging by its strap from a hook. Galleries typically displayed Levine’s work in this manner, giving it the appearance of a typical household object. The Everson purchased several works from Nine West Coast Clay Sculptors, including Maki’s Shoulder Bag.

Maki’s Shoulder Bag is on view in From Funk to Punk: Left Coast Ceramics through April 15. -Steffi Chappell, Curatorial Assistant Image captionsTop: Marilyn Levine, Maki’s Shoulder Bag, 1975, stoneware, 7 x 14 x 13 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase with matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, 80.10 Bottom: Installation photograph of Nine West Coast Clay Sculptors, on view at the Everson Museum of Art from September 29 to December 3, 1978