Hortus testudinei



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Walter Ostrom
Hortus testudinei, 2000Maiolica, earthenware
32.0 x 68.0 x 48.0 cm
Gift of the Artist, Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia, 2005
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Walter Ostrom has been a major force in the earthenware revolution that began during the seventies. A pioneer in the use of Nova Scotia’s Lantz clay, his first major show was in 1976 at the Art Gallery, Mt. St. Vincent University. Since then he has participated in more than 100 group and solo exhibitions throughout North America, the United States, Asia, and Europe. His work has appeared in numerous books and periodicals and has been collected by major institutions including: the Museum of Civilization (Ottawa), the Victoria & Albert Museum (London) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ostrom’s work and legacy as a teacher was the subject of the 1996 exhibition at AGNS - Walter Ostrom: The Advocacy of Pottery.

Educated in Europe and the United States, Ostrom came to Canada in 1969 to teach at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. For over 25 years he has been a respected teacher and active faculty member at that university, and was instrumental in NSCAD’s rise to the top ranks of North American art schools. His advocacy of low-fire clays, and, in particular, of the traditional European glaze technique of majolica, set him aside from his colleagues in the 70s, and set the stage for his advances in Canadian fine craft. He was visiting professor at the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute, Jiangxi, China which awarded him an Honourary Professorship in 1997. Ostrom was the recipient of the prestigious Saidye Bronfman Award for Outstanding Creativity in Craft in 2003, and the Jean A. Chalmers National Craft Award in 1995. He was named to the Order of Canada in 2006.

When Ostrom began work as a ceramics artist there was a clear, and accepted, hierarchy within the discipline. Porcelain was supreme, followed by stoneware and then earthenware. The higher the temperature needed to fire the clay body, the higher the regard for the object. Ostrom - responding to the pioneer work of Andrea Gill and Betty Woodman, and along with them John Gill, Wayne Higby, Jacquelyn Rice and Alan Caiger-Smith - was instrumental in a revival of earthenware in contemporary Ceramic art.

Hortus testudinei  is one of only two example of Ostrom’s large scale ceramics in the AGNS collection. Its title means Garden tortoise. It is in the shape of a tortoise shell with leaves and other organic material painted around the base. Tortoises are a recurring image in his work. Ostrom has described the tortoise as walking pots and his works also reference the Chinese idea of the ‘Cosmic Tortoise’ - the being which supports the universe. The shell of tortoise can be seen as the dome of the sky (or even in its bulkiness - as a mountain) and the undershell can be viewed as representing the flat ground.

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Shannon Parker
Curator of Collections
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