Manitoba Craft Council is pleased to announce that ceramic artist Grace Nickel is the winner of the 2023 Saidye Bronfman Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.
Many Winnipeggers will be familiar with Nickel in her role as Professor at U of M’s School of Art. Others will know her work from recent solo exhibitions at Gallery 1C03 and Actual Gallery in Winnipeg. She has mentored many emerging artists over the years, both formally, through Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA), and informally. She has served on the board of the Manitoba Craft Council and worked with many of this city’s most respected art organizations including MAWA, Art City, and Winnipeg Art Gallery Studio.
Nickel’s reputation for painstaking research, persistence in exploring new territory, and exquisite craftsmanship have earned her the respect and recognition of colleagues, critics, and curators at an international, national, and local level. We’re thrilled that she is being recognized with this prestigious award.
Local audiences will be able to experience Nickel’s ceramic work in person this spring-summer. WAG-Qaumajuq, in collaboration with the Manitoba Craft Council, will be presenting an exhibition of her artwork opening May 2023 – details coming soon!
Find out more about this year’s GG Award winners and view a short film about Grace Nickel’s career HERE.
ABOUT GRACE NICKEL
(excerpted from the nomination statement written by MCC Director Tammy Sutherland)
For more than forty years, Grace Nickel has maintained a vibrant studio practice while exhibiting, lecturing, teaching, writing, curating, participating in residencies, and taking on leadership roles in arts and academic settings. In her art practice focused on sculptural ceramics and installation, Nickel investigates how material, process, and scale impart meaning to form and how they influence the aesthetic qualities of her studio work by exploring both traditional and new technologies. Her work has been exhibited widely in Canada, the United States, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand and has garnered accolades including the Bronze Award at the prestigious Second International Ceramics Competition in Mino, Japan and a Special Judges’ Award at the Sixth Taiwan Golden Ceramics Awards. Nickel is a Professor at the School of Art, University of Manitoba (U of M).
Nickel grew up as a farm girl in Southern Manitoba, always aware of the scarcity of trees on the bald prairie and the beauty of clay excavated from great depths by her father with his frontend loader. She launched her career in 1980 with a BFA from the U of M, a school deeply tied to wheel-thrown practice and wood firing. From the outset, Nickel was drawn to the sculptural properties of clay. Pushing the limits of these properties, she moved towards a conceptual and architectural approach to ceramics, exploring hand-building and slip-casting techniques, working at an unusually large scale, and experimenting with fabric formwork and complex sculptural moulds.
With a wealth of experience behind her, she pursued graduate studies, earning an MFA in ceramics from NSCAD University. Nickel joined her alma mater, the School of Art at the U of M, as Assistant Professor in 2010, became the first woman to receive a tenured position in Ceramics at that institution, and was promoted to Full Professor in March 2022.
The full nomination statement is available here.
In describing the state of contemporary ceramics, Nickel observes that “if there is an overall trend, it’s in embracing diversity and versatility in material and process with an open mind.” This eloquently sums up Nickel’s own approach as an artist, exploring new ground with enthusiasm and virtuosity.
Through painstaking detail and exacting research, Nickel creates unexpected ceramic experiences for viewers that redefine the potential of clay and the craft of ceramics. As art writer Sarah Swan notes in the Summer 2015 issue of Galleries West, Nickel’s work “embod[ies] the old and the new, the past and the present, and [is] emblematic of the category-busting ceramics movement she is helping propel.”
Nickel’s “insistence on calling herself a ceramic artist, not a sculptor, demonstrates a fundamental allegiance to her materials and the unique tradition of ceramic art,” observes Patricia Bovey, former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Nickel is exceptional in her ability to blend rigorous material and technical investigations with a deeply conceptual engagement; her work represents an exquisite hybridization of the values of visual art and craft.
Mentoring has been critical to Nickel’s professional practice, and she generously offers support, advice, and encouragement to many on a formal and informal basis. “As a mentor she is outstanding,” writes former graduate student, Monica Martinez. “She pushes you to see the possibilities of what your work may be without imposing her personal aesthetic views upon it.”
In the exhibition catalogue for A Quiet Passage (2002), then Chief Curator of Decorative Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Helen Delacretaz writes: “Nickel’s final product is evidence of her proficiency in the clay medium, her understanding of its potential, and her persistent quest to test its limits. Her sensitivity to form and design, originality, attention to detail, and outstanding
workmanship place her among the leading ceramic artists in Canada.”
About the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts
The awards were created in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Governor General of Canada. Since then, the awards have celebrated Canada’s vibrant arts community and recognized remarkable careers in the visual and media arts.
Up to eight awards are distributed every year: six awards recognize artistic achievements, one award recognizes excellence in fine craft (Saidye Bronfman Award) and one award recognizes an outstanding contribution to contemporary visual arts, media arts or fine craft. The winners each receive a medallion and a cash prize of $25,000. The GGArts awards are part of the Canada Council’s suite of prizes recognizing excellence in the arts.