In Crafts__Ship: Carley Mullally, Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey and Inbal Newman, three Nova Scotia artists, distort the notion of craft as a female domestic art in a cheerful, cozy show steeped in the Maritimes’  history of rural life and seafaring at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery.

To walk into the gallery is to enter a playful, storybook home of multi-coloured, ceramic candlesticks, a cozy heart towel and a dory with yellow, blue and orange pompoms and tassels. While bringing humour and whimsy to their work, this trio is rigorously contemporary in examining gender, women’s history, Nova Scotia craft history and the value and nature of craft itself.

They chose the title, Crafts_Ship, which removes the word “man,” to question traditional distinctions between “female” domestic and “male” industrial arts.  “A lot of the materials are similar, the skills are the same, the tools are different,” says Inbal Newman, a sailor, printmaker and textile artist. For her eye-catching, re-invented dory, Never Heard the Word, she takes a traditional symbol of male strength and skill and adds “feminine” details like pompoms as baggy wrinkles to protect the sail from chafing. She keeps the familiar mustard yellow colour but adds hot-rod flames to the bow and the stern. The sail, beautifully lit so the boat glows like a ghost ship, is hand-printed in images of tall ships and the tools she used.

Newman plans to sail this boat near her Mahone Bay home this summer. She grew up in Wisconsin sailing on Lake Michigan; her father is from Halifax. “I started living in Nova Scotia because I was sailing on tall ships, and I was on the Picton Castle.” Her series of hand-made flags, Seafarings Women’s Personal Ensigns, first exhibited in Lunenburg in 2021, reveals the hidden history of women sailors and sea captains including 18th century botanist Jeanne Baret, who disguised herself as a man and is the first woman to circumnavigate the globe,  and the 19th century’s Mary Patten, who navigated her ship around Cape Horn after her husband – the captain – collapsed.

The flag’s designs, stitched by sailor’s palm-and-needle, precisely connect to each woman; knowing the story is key to appreciating the artwork. The Pleiades (Seven Sisters) constellation in La Have sailor Val Doane’s flag connects to the all-woman, seven-member team that won the Newport Bermuda race in 2006.

Inbal Newman’s playful, flamboyant, functional dory, Never Heard the World, named for a sailing expression about embracing fearlessness and the unknown, is in Crafts_Ship: Carley Mullally, Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey and Inbal Newman, at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, (Photo: Pam Corell)

In an era when a table can be set with Dollar Store dishes, Maradyn-Jowsey eats and drinks from dishes made by herself and artist friends. “A lot of the things I use as inspiration are simple things around me that I take joy in. I’m celebrating day-to-day life.” The rear of the gallery is her domestic space with walls of pale avocado and creamy mauve, colours that exist in her work and in the flowers and plants of her Lunenburg garden.

Her pinched, low-fire earthenware, majolica-glazed dishes are full of childlike energy in an exuberant pastiche of colour, pattern and form. They are also firmly rooted in Nova Scotia ceramic history; her neighbours and fellow gardeners are Nova Scotia ceramics superstar Walter Ostrom and former NSCAD ceramics technician and artist Doug Bamford, her “mentor.”

A 2017 NSCAD University graduate, she draws on patterns from international ceramic history;  for example, outlining a classic blue and white urn on a mug. “I’m playing with proportion and scale and smashing different styles together. The handles on this (tiny) mug come from a huge vase, probably English, ornate and made of porcelain, but why not have it as handles on a little mug?”

Maradyn-Jowsey started rughooking as a Girl Guide and took up tufting –  a faster way to hook a rug using a mechanical tufting gun –  during COVID-19. A staged dinner table with her purple, orange and yellow dishes and a giant bowl of lemons is duplicated in an image on a rug hanging behind the table. A clay pitcher is in front of a rug depicting a similar pitcher full of flowers.  What comes first? Sometimes the ceramic, sometimes the imagery in the rug – all of it starts in drawing. This push and pull between fiction and reality is absolutely enchanting.

Dinner for Two 2, ceramic dishes and vessels, various sizes, low-fire earthenware clay, maiolica and Jackie’s Matte glaze, pine dining table built by Adam Myatt, January 2023. Behind it is Dinner for Two 1, tufted rug, 100 per cent wool yarn, cotton and felt backing, February 2023. Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey. (Photo: Pam Corell)

While Newman and Maradyn-Jowsey insist on their work being functional, textile artist and NSCAD University teacher Mullally does not. Her familiar-looking, over-sized, domestic textiles give the viewer a warm and cozy feeling but are, in fact, cold and point to environmental destruction. They are woven out of thousands of discarded rubber lobster claw bands collected on beaches by the artist, her family and clean-up organizations. As a multi-coloured art material, they are, she says, “really fun to work with.”

BIT-BY-BIT, a folded blanket on a storybook plywood bed built by gallery assistant Adam Myatt, features a gradation of bands from white to brown as they enter different stages of rot. “I want to emphasize the material itself and how it breaks down over time. It takes about 100 years for bands if they are submerged to become microplastics.”

Mullally, who lives in Lunenburg and has family members active in the fishing industry, works with nets because they were historically made or maintained by all genders. “I’m a gender fluid person and I feel textiles are in this box of femininity. I love the idea of the net being a non-gendered object.” Irrational Repair, created during the unsettling time of the pandemic, is a series of  repaired nets, no bigger than tea towels,  made from found bait bags. Mullally skillfully mended the holes in a stunning variety of textile techniques including weaving, looping, knitting, coiling and net-making. Exhibited like modernist artworks in a two-row grid, they are about mending the spirit and nature, not making a broken object functional again.

Irrational Repair, reclaimed bait bags, nylon twine, May 2021 to the present, Carley Mullally. (Photo: Pam Corell)

The gallery’s assistant curator Pam Corell put the three artists together for a one-month residency after retired Senator Wilfred Moore called her about Newman’s ensigns’ exhibit at the Lunenburg School of the Arts, which he founded. “I liked the idea of the seafarer and life on the shore and wanted to explore that,” says Corell. “I also wanted to have more of an “objects” show because I knew it would come after a “paintings” show.” (The previous show JIM featured large, abstracted paintings by three, Halifax male artists.) “It didn’t take me long to find Gillian and Carley.”

A fun part of this show is the chaotic, creative workroom set up in a side gallery and full of the artists’  materials, reference books, tools and drawings. Viewers glimpse the time-consuming, labour-intensive processes behind the art and may touch objects with their hands. In turning to the homemade and intentionally, visibly hand-made, this trio is part of a current DIY movement that harks back to the 1970s and the Arts and Crafts Movement and holds out hope for the future as young people –  overwhelmed by the pandemic, climate emergency and rapidly advancing technology – take up traditional craft to make their own clothing, blankets, dishes and food, often as fine art.