Monthly Archives: December 2012

Victorian Ceramics: How the Craft was Feminized and Subsequently Devalued

Decoration and domestic crafts have long been looked down upon as a feminine art form, less important than supposedly masculine fine art. The practice of devaluing women’s work is highly evident in the Victorian era, in which female artists were undervalued and overly criticized in comparison to their male peers. By observing the treatment and reception of women in the ceramics industry one can understand that Victorian ideas of separate spheres and gendered economics contributed to the feminization and subsequent devaluation of crafts.

Vase by Hannah Barlow

Vase by Hannah Barlow

The Arts and Crafts movement had potential to be politically radical, an impressive advancement for women’s rights. It was born out of the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and, according to Clarissa Campbell Orr, was viewed by Victorian critics Ruskin and Morris as “part of the cure for the ugliness and dehumanization wrought by industrialisation”.[1] However, while the movement was arguably successful in lessening urban squalor and assisting the rural poor, it was less effective in its claims to help women. While the movement largely depended upon women’s labor it simultaneously clung to the kyriarchal idea that wealthy, white men should dominate the workforce. A strange balance was created, one in which women were able to work in ceramics, yet found their work to be unpaid and deemphasized. Employers’ treatment of women became one of the main contributing factors to the crafts’ lessened status.[2] Continue reading

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