Enid-Legros Wise Capsule:
Production Dates: 1969 – present
Location: Paspébiac and Hope Town, Quebec
Types of Work: small sculptural and sculptural, installation, architectural.
Preferred Kiln Type and Firing Process: propane-fired kiln, reduction fired, cone 11 to 13.
Preferred Media: fine translucent bisque porcelain, Hydrocal, paper clay, raku, earthenware, multi-media.
Signature/Mark/Chop: After 1985 Enid Legros used the name Enid Legros-Wise.1
A Short Biography:
Hope Town, population just a little over 400,1 a quiet village in the southern Gaspé, 885 kilometres east of Montreal is home and studio to artist Enid Legros-Wise. Apart from her five years of study in Montreal, (1961-1964 École des beaux-arts, and 1964-1966 Institut des arts appliqués), three years in Paris (1966-69 Atelier Francine Del Pierre) and a four year planning and sailing trip around the world (1997-2001) Enid has lived and worked in rural Gaspé.
“I was always anxious to get back to the rural life.”1
Enid started art school, the École des beaux-arts “by fluke,” studying painting, sculpture, drawing and design.1 It was after three years at the École and during a summer working in Banff that she suddenly thought of ceramics and knew immediately that it would be her choice of career. That year, 1964, she transferred to the Institut des arts appliqués in Montreal and began studying functional design and wheel work under Gaetan Beaudin, who passed on the influence of his Japanese experience.1 Other instructors were Gilberte Normandeau for her glazes, and Jacques Garnier who taught mould making and a focus on clay sculpture. As a sign of the development of ceramic knowledge of the time Gaetan told her,
“You people are very lucky. I give information gathered over twenty years and you learn it within two weeks.”1
The program had a creative looseness that gave assignments on which the students could freely work. They were encouraged to use their own initiative and do their own firings.1 But even as a student Enid attracted attention and praise. Gaeten Beaudin commented in an article in the Globe and Mail in July 1967:
“You will hear about Enid Legros from the lower Saint Lawrence.”10
The ceramic population was very small and she knew everyone in it. “Everything was functional except for Jaques Garnier.”1 The predominant work in Quebec at the time was stoneware. Anxious to get back to the rural life she set up studio back in Paspébiac in 1969. With very few resources at the time she occupied her parents’ basement for four years before moving to Hope Town.1 Isolation was a problem at times but she enjoyed and still enjoys the way of life.
“All the time I was in Montreal and Paris I couldn’t wait to get back to the country and the peace and quiet.”1
Enid was using a gas kiln, one she had built on her parents’ property during a summer vacation from art school. It was a period of trial and error. Apart from her studies she only had Leach’s ‘A Potter’s Book’ and Daniel Rhodes ‘Clay and Glazes for the Potter’, “the bible” at the time.”1 Although she had her own creative struggles in the early years ceramics in Quebec was already treated as something important by the Métiers d’art du Québec which conducted the Salon des Métiers d’art craft shows. As a self-supporting organization it enabled ceramists to focus on their work.1 She started porcelain in 1965, at first dabbling. A fellow student, Denise Fontaine, introduced her to the clay. She had not seen raw porcelain before but was taken by the fineness, the texture, the softness and the promise of translucency.1 A few years later in Paris on scholarships while studying at the Atelier Francine Del Pierre, Francine helped her progress further by giving her the reassurance to spend time on one piece:
“It was OK not to have to produce many works.”1
It was also in Paris, before her studio experience, that she felt she became truly professional:
“Paris was a time of finding my own expression …a period of getting my personal expression together. I’m happy I made this. This is me. If you get into that mode you are an artist.”1
But in France, apart from Francine Del Pierre and Fance Frank, she found people didn’t share their secrets and would leave out details whereas:
”In North America people are incredibly sharing with information.”1
Since those early days her time back in Quebec has been a steady evolution of creation, experimentation and innovation. This development has resulted in many awards and honours to her credit, including two Croix de Chevalier in France, the Sarajevo Prize from the First World Triennial of Small Ceramics in Yugoslavia, and the Gaspésian Cultural Merit Award 1996. In 2007 she was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA).
Gallery and Analysis:
Enid Legros-Wise’ work has all come from her studios in Paspébiac and Hope Town, Quebec. The geographical source of her work is consistent. Her artistic source, however, has taken on new aspects both aesthetically, and dimensionally. Enid says of her development:
“In 1969, after eight years of art studies, I opened my own studio specializing in small one-of-a-kind objects in porcelain. Over the years I have added sculptures of medium and large size in other materials, and installations. My evolution of expression has stretched from the simple search for aesthetics in my earliest works in porcelain in the 1970s into abstract form and philosophical questioning of the creative process itself, each time adding layers of meaning.”8
Post Card of Enid’s work printed by the Canadian Guild of Crafts, 1970s. The works of the early years from 1969 on are the works most familiar to viewers. She was one of the first in Quebec to do porcelain and the first to have her porcelain in the Salon. After Paris, back in Quebec, Enid had to set up her studio, redo her kiln and find a source of clay. Her father helped her to get her started.
“How many rich potters do you know?”1
It was during these early years she found the translucency she was seeking through trial and error, observations, and notes on everything:
“If you reduce too early or too late you don’t get it.”1
Enid started working in a variety of techniques, from coils, the wheel, to plaster moulds. She made her own plaster moulds and was slip-casting. For many years she felt self-conscious since at the time there was a general dismissing of casting as an industrial technique.1 She explored this technique looking for precise form and a desire to get into decoration. Initially her approach was from the material to the idea rather than the reverse.1 This was to change over the years as the scope and scale of her work evolved.
Bobbed Lichen, porcelain. c.1970, trailed slip cobalt watercolour underglaze, 2.8 x 6.6 cm. Gift of Mr and Mrs Bernard Naylor Winnipeg Art Gallery. Boxes such as this are typical of her early work. She used watercolours to colour underneath her glazes, e.g. calcined cobalt, pre-fired. She liked working with watercolours because, unlike many raw oxides, the colour remained the same through the firing.1 In these early years she worked small but in the 1970s she worked very small. However, this was also a practical advantage in that such scale was inexpensive and easy to ship to exhibitions and the Salon. Her rural location and its isolation had their effect. With the remoteness of the Gaspé she had, and still has, to import everything. Her principal supplier has always been the Pottery Supply House in Oakville, Ontario.
Enid Legros-Wise’ First Kiln, Arcturus, Paspébiac, 1971. This small, outdoor kiln from her student days is Arcturus. Propane gas-fired with a 15” x 13” x 13” stacking area, it could hold 50+ pieces. This was another advantage of working in small sizes. Since her student days the part she liked the most was the firing.
“I love firing, a real feeling for the fire. My firings are very technical.”1
Arcturus was followed by a kiln in the fireplace, water hose ready:
“How I didn’t burn down the house I have no idea.”1
Her little kiln, Artemise, followed in the late ‘70s. Artemise had only a 1 cu ft stacking area but served her needs at the time. All the pink work was done in Artemise in reduction.1
Rock Box. 1981.Generally her porcelain works were reduction fired using a copper reduced glaze which she used for 12 years. She preferred exploring the variations of one glaze from clear to pale pink, dark reds, browns. She would adjust the thickness of the glaze, the placement in the kiln, or the number of firings. Sometimes a work would have three high-firings, followed by grinding and then re-firing.1 At this time Enid loved the designing, the sculpting and modelling. Sometimes the work was first designed, sometimes it was spontaneous. In spite of the subtlety of her glazes she confesses to little interest in glaze chemistry and the mixing of clays. 1
Around 1978 she began to experiment with other clays, forms, enamels and surfaces, and to occasionally use an electric kiln.1
Ring, 1972. Porcelain, carved, slip-trailed, engraved. Porcelain rings was another line of forms she created. They sold for $10-18 in the 1970s; These and love letters and family histories on porcelain were extremely marketable. Her preferred technique was slip-trailing using a “Miss Clairol” hair dye applicator.
“The porcelain comes out a beautiful white when done in this way (reduction). I have occasionally fired my porcelain in the electric kiln to obtain an off-white colour. I did this in particular when I was making jewellery so I could offer clients more choice.”1
In the later 1970s there was a major shift in her work and inspiration. Works became larger and more open, penetrated. The Wave and other forms were the eventual result:
“I was feeling disappointed, that I was doing the same thing that everyone else was doing for centuries. I had my own cachet but there was nothing innovative about it. I got to the point I would avoid going to museums and other people’s exhibitions in galleries. I didn’t want to be influenced by other people.”1
The nearby sea and its shapes were always close to Enid’s consciousness and also had their influence.
“The Wave was, therefore important to me.”1
The Wave series was a new, more minimally abstract form that emerged and evolved over many years. Initially the Waves started with the concept of designing a spoon based on a cone shape. There was, of course, experimentation and transition. Until 1981 she saw herself as a surface designer. But from then on then she was exploring form. Also as of the early 1970s she was hardly throwing, preferring instead sculpting, modelling and casting.1 The direction of her work becomes more evident in the series of Waves that she would explore, enhance and enlarge, from sculptural pieces to installation, and an architectural work.
Helen’s Bowl, 1978, slip trailed, 14cm. This was the beginning of the cone shape, a transitional form. Still rather small is starts with a cylinder base reminiscent of her box forms, including the attached flowers. The shape, however is not enclosed; rather it flares out in an upward opening spiral, with slices in the lip to further enhance the vortex of energy. Apart from the applied flowers and the subtle slip trailing there is minimal surface decoration. A similar shape later appears in her Veritas exhibition.
The period around the year 1982 was a time of creative flux, of new and intense experimentation.
Sanctuary Bowls, 1982, painted earthenware, porcelain birds and quills. Here the minute form is encased within the larger, with delicate bird couplings inside flaring beakers. She still worked with the small in some of her design elements. From the outside a simple functional form is seen. From above one looks down into a bell-shaped interior, into a delicate fantasy of avian forms, white like the beaker, casting delicate shadows on the interior surface.
Take Time Miniatures, 1992, teapot, 6.3 cm. One of her “Whimsies” the tea set is child-sized. Such work had a playful intent, sometimes a fairy tale aspect. Without a label indicating the true dimensions the work looks like a “normal” functional tea set, simple in its design and surface. Enid’s difficulty in “letting go of porcelain”1 was matched with a parallel difficulty in letting go of small scale.
The cone was to be the major direction of her future work. The best description of Enid’s evolution in the cone form is by Jonathan Smith, Permanent Collection Curator of the Burlington Art Centre:
Heartshakers. Wishboxes containing hearts and stars. 4.2 cm, nd.
“ … one can trace the development of form over the years. Even just picking one form, the cone, one can see how it appears first as small decorative elements on the sides and tops of boxes and vases. This decorative element is simply shaped from a tiny ball of clay that has been pinched flat and then twisted. The cone then appears more and more as the overall shape of the boxes until it evolves into Legros’ spoon, a small hornlike form open at the top and the bottom that can function as a scoop. The artist continues her exploration of the cone by turning it upside down to create a cup, to closing the horn to create a wish box called a “heartshaker” and which contains minuscule porcelain hearts that tinkle when the box is picked up. The cone further becomes the “stump vase”, an undecorated form that looks sculptural in appearance. An important leap appears here. The “stump vases” and similarly shaped “spoons” are the basis for the “wave” forms. Here the function has totally disappeared.”7
Wave, 1982, white earthenware, 23 cm. This was one of the first waves, in white earthenware. The basic wave form came quite early. About 1978 Enid started working on the concept of a spoon form. She felt a challenge to make a spoon but a spoon that was original, unlike the shape of the usual spoon. She had been making bells in a cone shape and from there moved to the spoon and eventually the wave. The spoon was not just a handle and scoop but a 3D cone; the cut-out bottom part becoming a handle. These then became small sculptures, firstly as mountains then, as waves. They started out small, 3”-4” high, but were to increase in size. The cone became very important to her, complete or truncated, cut or pierced. She would move from the truly tiny or petite, to the large scale, and finally to the complexity of installation.1
“I had to work to get away from porcelain, from the porcelain to the wave … away from the shiny glaze, the high temperature. With the shiny glaze all you see are the reflections of the room and not the work, so then I let go of the glaze. But then I had these cones and didn’t know what to do with them. It was step by step by step. I was looking for something quiet and spiritual and these things have a lot of movement.”1
It took two years. It was a curator friend, Jean-Louis Lebreux, who visited her and told her what she had as sculpture. The cones have permitted her to work in all sizes. She also began to work with media other than porcelain such as stoneware, raku, and paper clay: The progress, however, was not even as she experimented with varieties of scale and the introduction of different media. She would return to porcelain in more recent work but she no longer used porcelain exclusively. In the waves form she was looking for purity of shape and colour: by using porcelain fired to just under 2000 degrees, just white clay and no paint.1 Later she was to explore other media and surfaces.
Wave Sculpture, 1996, height 290 x 240 x 330 mm, non-vitreous clay coated with epoxy and white alkyd paint. The wave forms are modified, slip cast works. She modified the top and bottom to wet a section which becomes ”liquid” and which she can stretch, pull, push, sponge and jiggle so the wet part can flow. There is no glaze. The surface is now treated differently with epoxy and paint. The intent has now shifted from any functional resemblance to pure sculptural form and surface:
“The spiritual quality of my work is now more important, what I’m looking for.”1
The move into other media and increased scale accelerated in the late 1980s with her architectural installation, The Sea.
The Sea 1988, Hydrocal. Paspébiac Historic Site. Enid received a contract in the Intégration de l’art à l’architecture, the Quebec Government 1% program where 1% of an architectural project is devoted to a work of art that is integrated with the architecture. The Sea was the result, an architectural sculpture in an historic building. She gave it the title ‘The Sea’ because it was more encompassing. In the work:
“People saw so many things, icebergs, narwhals, waves.”1
For this sudden enlargement of scale and place in her work she left clay and used Hydrocal, a fine hard plaster-like material. The work is 8 feet high, composed of three elements, and weighs over 1000 kg. This was serious scale and scope change, and permanent:
“This showed me I can work in any material. It opened up a whole new world for me which is what I was looking for … It does not matter now what material I work in. I have so much more freedom.”1
This commission enabled her to explore other areas of longstanding interest. Enid has also been fascinated by the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics and string theory.1 Like some inflationary “big bang” she moved into large installations. However, her closeness to the sea was to remain an underlying theme.
The Circumnavigation Exhibition At
The Burlington Art Centre 2002 – 2003
“[Enid’s] interest in the natural environment, and in particular the oceans, is an important thread throughout her career. She first exhibited sculptures based on this theme in 1982, and this voyage has become a very important source of inspiration for new ideas.”9
The exhibition concept for Circumnavigation was put on hold in 1997 until after Enid completed a four year boating experience that included a two year round the world sailing voyage she took with her husband.7 Enid says of the experience:
“I get seasick , and I’m not much of a sailor, but my God what a wonderful experience!”1
It was a four year project, with four years actually sailing with her husband, Roger Wise.
“We rented out the house so we had nowhere to go. Roger had sold the Moon Dance he had been chartering and he bought a lovely old Peterson 44 in Florida, suitable for ocean travel, which we sailed up and down the east coast and throughout the Caribbean, refitting it and chartering before setting off around the world… the Panama Canal, South Pacific Islands, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Mediterranean, Atlantic, Caribbean and back to Florida. My only worry was about pirates.”1
In the Red Sea she remembers their boat being followed by boats with men with machine guns. She also remembers the beauty, the extraordinary things she saw:
“I’m a night person. I loved the night watch, the beauty of the night, its night light and what it did to things, and the wonderful reflections everywhere created by the water around us.”1
“Circumnavigation” was a retrospective and installation. The Inner Sea Waves were made in paper clay and spray-painted white. A change had come into Enid’s approach to surface, paint. She now says:
” I love paint. I want to paint all my pieces.”1
The exhibition was partly retrospective and explored the theme of functional vs non-functional in ceramics. Planning and organizing this her first installation was, to put it mildly, stressful. Frustrated by her progress in the planning:
” I pointed to heaven and said, “It’s your turn. Send me my next good idea.”2
Castles Of The Inner Sea, 2002. Installation within the Circumnavigation exhibition, Burlington Art Centre. The exhibition, organized by curator Jonathan Smith was a huge step in her development, huge in concept, scale and content.
“I am always trying to expand my horizons in my work so I decided to include in this exhibition my first attempt at an installation. It was to be within a large window, over 20 feet long and 5 feet high, situated along a glassed in corridor. I had had a dream for many years, to work with glass creating reflections within reflections and evoking a sense of mystery within the work. I hoped I would be able to do this with this installation, and I named it “The Inner Sea” (as in a meditation).”2
The Inner Sea, 2002. Multi-media installation detail, length 7 metres, at Burlington Art Centre. The exhibition displayed not only her now familiar wave forms but also included an installation.This first installation included not only ceramics but also other media such as rice paper sails blown by gallery air ducts. Enid had learned that installations were not “just about the pieces.”2 She returned to the gallery two weeks after the opening to take some photographs. She now saw the exhibition in a new light:
“… most astonishing was the final discovery: that I had succeeded in creating reflections everywhere, not just within the large window, but all along the winding corridor, and on a grand scale, and I only realized this when I returned two weeks later to photograph my work. And because these wonderful, ethereal, white images were only visible against darkness as they were caught in the plate glass windows… they grew with the descent of dusk and faded with the rise of dawn… mysteriously. A miracle.”2
The “Veritas” Project 2007
Further explorations of her interests in light, movement, shifts in perception and human truths were to be seen in her series of exhibitions titled the Veritas Project five years later.
Veritas at Vaste et Vague, Towards the light 2007, and Veri-Tasses In River, Paspebiac Historic Site. Veritas was also an installation exhibition. Three versions were created because the location changed; sometimes cups were attached to walls, part was a floor arrangement. Enid was exploring themes that have underlain her work over the years:
“A preoccupation I have had throughout my career has been the division that has existed between fine craft and visual art. In 2007 I exhibited the first three versions of “Veritas” … in which I combined these two categories into one. … I used one thousand “cups” in porcelain as a vehicle to explore a collective search for truth. This work took a simple object of use and placed it in a philosophical and social context, neatly uniting the two poles of fine craft and contemporary art, and at the same time engaging the public in the very process of the creative act.”8
The exhibition had elements recalling her earlier series of porcelain love letters and family history plaques:
“The basic intent of the 2007 exhibition was to create one thousand cups (“veri-tasses”) in porcelain and invite the public to provide me with original sayings or quotes representing truths that were very important in their lives. These I wrote on the cups and each cup bore a single truth with the name of the participant on the bottom. I collected almost 800 of these texts, the vast majority of them in the form of original sayings. To this I added 38 drawings done on cups by primary school children and used the remaining number of blank cups in “Hidden Truths” to represent the infinite number of beliefs that could not possibly be included or known. I made the cups with loving care and I smile to think how appreciated they were.”8
This was a further change in scale and visual and literal content. The play on words is typical Legros-Wise: veritas (truth) and veri-tasse (truth cup). The ‘veri-tasses’ are not painted. They are high-fired translucent, bisqued porcelain. The writing on them is in acrylic paint. Enid says she was:
“… coming back to colour but the colour is white. …And as for firing the acrylic I put them in my kitchen oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Whatever works.”1
The Devil’s Advocate. As part of the exhibition this was an open tub shape 36” in height by 46” in diameter made of white Arborite (outside) and dark blue Formica (inside). The interior has a raised bottom, with convex and concave Mylar mirrors around sections of the sides, and thirteen “veri-tasses” placed in two rows through the centre. The translucency of porcelain is less obvious than the reflection of mirrors, a time warp of the past, present and future. The image changes as the viewer moves.2 Reflections, whether glaze and gloss or Mylar and mirrors are a consistent device in her work. Enid describes its meaning:
“In this work, as we walk around and peer into the far depths of the mirrors, the images of the veri-tasses” float, stretch, shrink, expand, jump, disappear and reappear … this work truly is the visual symbol of mankind’s incessant search for truth.”8
As she has searched for truths in her work Enid Legros Wise has discovered truths within herself. In jumps or quantum leaps, from the almost micro to the macro, her creative search is as much discovering truths about herself as about her art. She did produce translucent miniatures for her 2013 Time Warp Exhibition. She now has a bigger kiln, Eugene, which does not produce pinks because it cools too slowly. She has no plans to return to the high fired copper pinks and celadon glazes of her early work.1 In addition to her artistic creations and exhibitions Enid is currently writing a book about the creative process a subject she has explored throughout her career:
“What are we doing from original thought to final work? I am still trying to understand it.” 1
Links to Other Sites for More Works:
There is an excellent selection of media recordings of Enid Legros-Wise and her work. Some is easily available, some more archival in nature.
• Enid Legros-Wise, Hope Town, Circuit des arts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukdlw47yFKE. A 3:41 minute video but the actual interview is only about 2:30 min where Enid gives an overview of her past and present work. The interview is in French.By Circuit des arts de la Gaspésie.
• http://www.circuitdesarts.org/artistes/?id=47 2:43 min. Enid talks about her work and studio. Well presented with often close up images of her work.
• 1984 Participation in the program “Glorious Mud”, CBC Hand and Eye series.
• 1979 “L’envers du décor”, documentary about the artist, by Radio-Québec Cinematography.
• 2002 Produced (filmed and edited) a short bilingual video (5min 18 sec) of her installation, “The Inner Sea”, at the Burlington Art Centre, Burlington, Ontario. This installation was part of her solo exhibition of porcelain and sculpture entitled “Circumnavigation”.
• 1995 Produced (filmed and edited) a 20-minute bilingual video demonstrating some of her techniques using porcelain. This film was part of the exhibition “The World of Enid Legros-Wise” at Musée de la Gaspésie (1996)
• 1979 Filmed and produced, in collaboration with Edgar McIntyre, a 44-minute film demonstrating some of her techniques using porcelain. This film was previewed at the 1979 Calgary Seminar.
Major Collections (Selected)
Loto-Québec, Musée Acadien du Québec à Bonaventure, Burlington Art Centre, Musée du Québec, Musée de la Gaspésie, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, Jean Chalmers Collection of Contemporary Crafts, The Pottery Supply House (Canada) Limited, The Massey Foundation Collection, Ministère des Affaires culturelles, Québec, Awarded Works: World Triennial Exhibition of Small Ceramics, Croatia, Claridge Collection, Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery
Selected Honours, Awards, Prizes9
- 2007 Elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA)
- 2005 “A” Grant for “Veritas” project, Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec
- 1996 The Gaspésian Cultural Merit Award 1996 1996 Honourary life membership, Amis du Musée de la Gaspésie
- 1984 Musée de la Gaspésie named one of its galleries “Salle Enid Legros”
- 1984 Sarajevo Prize, 1st World Triennial of Small Ceramics, Zagreb, Yugoslavia
- 1976 Purchase Awards, National Exhibition, Calgary
- 1974 Indusmin Award for Porcelain, Canadian National Exhibition
- 1973 Honourable Mention Medal, Ceramics International ‘73
- 1973 Honourable Mention, Canadian National Exhibition
- 1972 Diplôme d’Honneur Award, Biennale de Vallauris, France
- 1971 Indusmin Award for Porcelain, Canadian National Exhibition
- 1969 The Knight’s Cross, Order of the “P.A.H.C.”, Académie de l’Intérêt public ,France
- 1969 The Knight’s Cross Award, Comm. Sup. des Récompenses, France
Endnotes & Bibliography:
1. Enid Legros-Wise. Interviews with and emails to Barry Morrison
2, Enid Legros-Wise Website: http://www.legroswise.com/index.html
3. 2011 Canada Census
4. Enid Legros-Wise La Gaspésie des Artistes – Line Goyette, Christian Lamontagne – pp106 &108. Publisher: FIDES INC. (June 13 2006) Language: French
5. Jonathons: http://www.jonathons.ca/artists/80-enid-legros-wise.html
6. RCA site: http://archive.today/EgzPS
7. Jonathan Smith, Introduction to Circumnavigation Exhibition, Burlington Art Centre 2002
8. Enid Legros: ” Résumé of my creative process and description of the “Veritas” project: nd.
9. Enid Legros-Wise. Resume October 2013
10. Joan Capreol. Women Potters make a Splash in Quebec Ceramics. Globe and Mail, July 1967.