Landscape: Personal Connections

Craft artists depend on their natural environment for both materials and inspiration. Materials are collected, combined and transformed through the creativity and necessity of human hands. This educational guide delves into the indispensable and innate relationships between artists and their environment, thus providing educators with material that will relate to and reflect the core ideas, artists, and art forms presented in the LANDSCAPE episode.

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1 Landscape: Personal Connections intro
2 Background Information
3 Artists
4 Craft in Action
5 Craft in the Classroom

We all live and work within our own personal landscapes—surrounded by objects, ideas, beliefs and values that help shape our personal identities. Both Richard Notkin and Denise Wallace work from within their personal landscapes to share with others what they care about deeply. When craft artists use their art forms to reveal their passions and concerns, their objects are imbued with special meanings. As we view and use the objects they create, we are invited to not only appreciate their beauty and form, but also visit the landscapes from which these objects emerged.

Featured Artists
Richard Notkin (clay/LANDSCAPE)
Denise Wallace (jewelry/COMMUNITY)

Related Artists
Hystercine Rankin (quilting/COMMUNITY)
Einar and Jamex de la Torre (glass/COMMUNITY)
Jan Yager (jewelry/LANDSCAPE)

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I don’t know that the [Helena, Montana] landscape really effects the work. I’m working out of a political landscape.

– Richard Notkin

Jan Yager, Chicory Blossom Brooch, City Flora Series, 1995. Jack Ramsdale photograph

When we think of landscape, we often think of it as an expanse of scenery or as part of the natural world, but we can also think of landscape as a kind of background for our individual lives. We all live and work within our own personal landscapes. We surround ourselves with objects that have meaning to us and help shape our personal identities. The books on our shelves, the plants that we nurture, the special items brought home with us from our travels, our artworks, family pictures and mementos—these contribute to the unique environment from which we move into the larger society. Our personal landscape is formed, in large part, by the ideas we have about the world—its history, its institutions, and the people who inhabit it. Our beliefs and values—what we care about deeply—surround us and inform our day-to-day interactions with others. Our personal landscape also becomes the setting for our work.

Moving out into the world from our personal landscapes, we cannot help but bring the concerns that we have and ideas about how to address issues that are important to us. People care deeply about such matters as the environment, family, and cultural heritage. We care about social justice and spirituality. We have deep concern for others and concerns about the way we work together, educate our children, and govern ourselves. Our personal landscapes infuse the choices we make as we move through our days—what we do and what we say—in our family life, social life and work life. Our personal landscapes become the impetus and the settings for our personal expressions.

Personally Political: Richard Notkin

Richard Notkin

Richard Notkin’s artworks are not subtle, nor are they hard to read or interpret. They make direct, powerful, clear statements about the world in which he lives. As a craft artist, Notkin uses traditional materials and techniques to visually express his political concerns. Richard Notkin’s personal landscape is highly political. Each handcrafted clay piece tells us what is important to him as well as what he hopes will be important to us. Notkin pushes the boundaries of his art form to express his ideas. In his hands, a teapot transforms into a unique complex vessel. He redefines its purpose without compromising its essential form (body, spout, handle, lid, and knob) or the material (clay).

Notkin’s teapots, tiles, and sculpted artworks are visual statements about government, war, and other societal issues. His work is richly detailed and skillfully crafted. At an early age, Notkin developed a fascination with the handmade and an interest in detailed and meticulous carving. He also learned how to use his art to express his ideas and tell stories that he feels are important to tell. While his pots are inspired by his interest in traditional Chinese Yixing teapots, they have a separate cultural identity that reflects his world, as do his tiles and other sculptural works. Notkin’s personal landscape infuses his work with a deep concern for all of humanity. His personal, private landscape becomes public with his crafted works that speak of his time, his country and his deeply held convictions.

Richard Notkin, Pyramidal Skull Teapot: Military Intelligence I, 1989


Richard Notkin
Born 1948, Chicago, Illinois
• Lives and works in Helena, Montana
• Received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of California
• Created a series of teapots based on those found in Yixing, China, embedding them with contemporary themes and imagery—called the 20th-Century Solutions Teapot series
• Teapots comprise the majority of work between 1983 and 1995
• When speaking about the teapot, he calls it “the most complex of vessels, consisting of body, handle, spout, lid and knob. This allows me the widest latitude in juxtaposing the many images I use to set up my narrative pieces.”
• Addresses socio-political issues, including war, the Holocaust, and nuclear annihilation
• The Gift, a Notkin mural made from 1106 ceramic tiles, depicts the mushroom cloud of the Bikini Atoll nuclear test in 1946, each tile serving as its own bas relief, showing images such as skulls, ears and dice

A Storied Past: Denise Wallace

Samuel Wallace Denise Wallace

Jeweler Denise Wallace’s summertime visits to Cordova, Alaska had a profound effect on her as a child. While visiting, her grandmother told stories of their ancestors, stories that had been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Wallace also listened to stories about the challenges faced by her parents and grandparents growing up at a time when there was no traditional dancing, when few spoke their ancestral language. It was a time of assimilation—their Native culture was at risk of vanishing. In spite of these struggles, Wallace felt a special connection not only to her family living in Cordova, but also to the natural world of the region.

It was not until later in life that Wallace realized the stories she had heard as a child were important and needed to be told to others to ensure the survival of their culture. The personal landscape that guides her in her craft is predominately social—reflecting her connection to her culture and her determination to keep traditions alive. For Wallace, handcrafted jewelry she makes with her husband, Sam Wallace, is now a vehicle for telling these stories that are so important to her personal landscape. Each unique piece is based on a traditional story or image that combines the past and the present. These beautiful pieces are rich in history but adapted to modern life–contemporary jewelry inspired by traditional forms. Wallace’s personal landscape is deep, stretching far into the past with the stories that inform and guide her in the present. Often those who buy her jewelry want to know the story behind it, which Wallace gladly shares. Thus, the wearers become the storytellers. Through her jewelry and her teaching, Wallace is passing down traditions that are an important part of her identity. She uses her craft to share her deep concerns for her people and their stories.

Denise and Samuel Wallace, Woman in the Moon. Kiyoshi Togashi photograph


Denise Wallace
Born 1957, Seattle, Washington
Samuel Wallace
Born 1936, Calvin, Virginia
• Denise, a Chugach Aleut (Inuit), and her non-native husband Samuel are partners in both life and work
• Denise designing the pieces and handling the metalwork, and Samuel doing the lapidary (setting the stones)
• Son David and daughter Dawn also help make the jewelry
• Jewelry is made of gold, silver, and semi-precious stones, as well as scrimshawed (etching designs into bone or ivory) fossilized walrus ivory
• Crossroads of Continents Belt, considered to be their most important work, took them over 2500 hours to create
• Denise grew up in Seattle, but refers to Cordova, Alaska, where many of her Native Alaskan relatives live, as home
• In 1977, moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico so Denise could study at the Institute of American Indian Arts
• Moved to Hawaii in 1999 after they fell in love with the landscape while visiting the islands

The Craft Connection
We all live and work within our own personal landscapes—surrounded by objects, ideas, beliefs and values that help shape our personal identities. Both Richard Notkin and Denise Wallace work from within their personal landscapes to share with others what they care about deeply. When craft artists use their art forms to reveal their passions and concerns, their objects are imbued with special meanings. As we view and use the objects they create, we are invited to not only appreciate their beauty and form, but also visit the landscapes from which these objects emerged.

Richard Notkin, Hexagonal Curbside Teapot: Variation #17, 1987


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Have students view the DVD segment on Denise Wallace (jewelry/COMMUNITY) or view online at While viewing, ask students to consider the question: What people, objects, ideas and beliefs are important parts of the artist’s personal landscape?

After viewing the DVD segment on Denise Wallace, engage students in a conversation about the artist and her work. What does she make? Where does she get her inspiration? What is she trying to convey? What is important to her? What role does her ancestry play in her artwork? What stories is she telling? Why are these stories important to her and important for her to tell? What’s her message? What is she trying to say with this artwork? Is there a broader issue she is trying to address?

Denise and Samuel Wallace, Crossroads of Continents Belt, 1990. Kiyoshi Togashi photograph


Have students view the DVD segment on Richard Notkin (clay/LANDSCAPE) or view online at While viewing, ask students to consider the question: What people, objects, ideas and beliefs are important parts of the artist’s personal landscape?

After viewing the DVD segment on Richard Notkin, engage students in conversation about the artist and his work. What does he make? Where does he get his inspiration? What is he trying to convey? What is important to him? What roles do history and current events play in his artwork? What issues is he addressing? Why are these issues important to him and important for him to share with others? What’s his message? What is he trying to say with this artwork? How is his personal landscape different from that of Denise Wallace? Are there any similarities?

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View additional DVD and web segments on featured artists Richard Notkin and Denise Wallace.

Watch DVD or web segments for other artists and art forms that explore the theme Landscape: Personal Connections. How do these artists draw upon their own personal landscapes through their artwork? Compare and contrast Hystercine Rankin (quilting/COMMUNITY), Einar and Jamex de la Torre (glass/COMMUNITY) and Jan Yager (jewelry/LANDSCAPE) with Richard Notkin and Denise Wallace.

Making the Personal Public
Divide students into pairs and have them work together to write a radio segment (podcast or blog) about ordinary people who in different ways artists make the personal public. Their segment needs to be about three minutes long, and they will need to discuss two artists who are draw upon their own personal landscapes—the ideas, beliefs, values, objects, people and traditions that help shape their work–Richard Notkin and Denise Wallace. For each, they should talk about the artist, the artwork, and the landscape (what each artist cares deeply about) Good evening. Tonight we’re featuring two artists…. Give each student a copy of the Talk Radio worksheet (Landscape: Personal Connections Worksheet #1) to work on their radio segments. Have the students work quickly, giving them only 30 minutes to complete the task. When they have all written their segments, have each pair “perform” their radio talk for the class.

Working individually or in pairs, have students find three different teapots included in the virtual version of the exhibition Craft in America: Expanding Traditions, which can be found on the Craft in America website: Then ask them to complete the Personal Landscapes Revealed worksheet (Landscape: Personal Connections Worksheet #2). Remind students that craft artists might care about political issues, as with Richard Notkin, or they might care deeply about such things as form, innovation, originality, nature or tradition. When they have completed the worksheets, have students, as a group, describe the teapots they found and the ideas conveyed through each of the vessels. Did all of the teapots convey ideas or concerns? How did you know what ideas or concerns each artist seemed to be trying to communicate?

Einar & Jamex de la Torre, Tiajuana on a Silver Platter, 2005


Clay Tiles
Begin by having students, as a class, brainstorm issues that are important to them such as world hunger, violence, conflict, poverty, environment, health, human rights, education, cultural identity, multiculturalism, etc. Ask them to think locally, regionally, and globally. When they have generated a list, have them pick one issue that is important or meaningful to the group. They should then spend some time researching that issue. When that research is complete, ask them to boil the issue down its most prominent attributes, and brainstorm images associated with the issue to create a series of simplified images or symbols that convey the issue’s essence. While making sketches of their symbols, they should think about how they will communicate their idea to different audiences–children, peers, adults (citizenry), community leaders, and a global audience.

When their designs are complete, have them role out slabs of clay to make a series of tiles. Using Richard Notkin’s tiles as models, have them make one tile aimed at each audience. They can use additive and subtractive processes in working with the clay. The tiles can then be glazed and fired, or, alternatively, students can use self-hardening clay, which can then be painted. Mount the tiles as an individual series–glued to board or mounted all together to create a mural-like installation. To conclude the project, ask students to title their artwork, either individually or collectively, and have students “read” and discuss one another’s tiles.

Our Community
Part 1
Explain to students that they will begin this art project exploring their community through the stories of others. Like Denise Wallace, have them look to their own communities to inspire their artwork. Have them collect stories from people in their community (family, seniors, public officials, etc.) using the Your Community’s Social Landscape worksheet (Landscape: Personal Connections Worksheet #3) to guide their discussions. The goal of the activity is to use the stories they gather as the basis for their art project, either a handcrafted book or quilt. Each student should interview at least 2-3 people. Questions they can ask to gather the stories include, but are not limited to: What is something special you remember about this community growing up? What is special now? What do you hope future generations will value about this community? What are some of the challenges that the community has faced in the past? Today, who are some people that make this community special? What do you think the community is known for? What is your favorite memory? What is your favorite or special place?

Part 2
When students have gathered the stories, ask them to share some of them with the rest of the class. They should then individually review their findings to identify stories that resonate with them. Have students take those selected stories and turn them into sketches–visual depictions of what they learned from the interviewee. There are two ways students can work with these images:

Create a Story Book
Have students make a handcrafted book using a variety of pre-made papers. The book can take one of many different forms; however, an accordion format would work well for this project. When students have created the book form, they should fill the pages with drawings and collage elements depicting the stories they have chosen to illustrate. They can also draw and write in the book. Complete the project by having students embellish their covers.

Make A Story Quilt
Have students watch the DVD segment on Hystercine Rankin (quilting/COMMUNITY) or online at, focusing on her story quilt. Using the sketches students made earlier, have students choose one that they will turn into a quilt square using basic quilting techniques. When students have completed their quilt squares, sew them together to form a class quilt entitled Our Community’s Social Landscape.

Part 3
To bring the project full circle, have students take the books or the quilt they made back to the community. They could be displayed at a local bank, chamber of commerce, city hall, public library, senior center, etc. Students should invite the people they interviewed to view the results of their project, and students could be available on certain days at specific times to talk about the message of book or quilt. This public aspect of the project could constitute part of your school’s community service requirement.

Have each student write an article for the school paper or local newspaper about the role that art can play in conveying important what people care about. They could write about the artist who inspired them, what the artist’s ideas and concerns were, who they interviewed from the community, and how the artists and the people they interviewed became a catalysts for their own work. Their articles should reflect all aspects of what they learned through the various activities and projects they completed.

Craft in Your World
Tiles are a part of our everyday life. We see them in our bathrooms, on the kitchen floor, as decorative touches throughout our homes. Have students look closely at the various types of tiles they encounter over the course of a day. Ask students: Are these tiles handcrafted? How can they tell? Why are they not handcrafted? If you were to redesign one of the places where you saw these tiles, how would you incorporate handmade tiles into the new design?

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