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Bronwynne Cornish: Ursa Major/Ursa Minor

July 11 - September 10

Bronwynne Cornish, Ursa Major/Ursa Minor (2012), ceramic


Bronwynne Cornish was the recipient of the Wallace Arts Trust Development Award at the 2011 Wallace Art Awards, a prize comprising a two-month artist residency at the Vermont Studio Centre (VSC), in Vermont USA. During her stay at the VSC in 2012 Cornish became inspired by the surrounding environment and produced a new body of work. She created a life-size bear using clay, which she attempted to fire in a large bonfire-like kiln. The firing was a big social occasion in the evening with many from VSC sharing company around the fire. Unfortunately the bear did not survive the firing and blew up in the process with only the feet remaining intact. Ursa Major/Ursa Minor presents Cornish’s bear as it now is, documented in video, photography, and booklet form. These each provide a sense of her creative process and what was a special experience.

“The thought of Bear was rolling round in my head before I even got to Johnson, Vermont, to take up my residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I imagined coming across one in the woods. We would stand and stare each other in the eye. Who would run first.

A young fellow artist would take me ‘Bear Walking’.  Stomping loudly through the woods it was Spring. Bears were waking up from winter hibernation, hungry, after all that time without food. We came upon a beaver lodge in the Gihon River and signs of beaver nibbled trees. We didn’t see a Bear.

At the same time I was researching at the small local library. The librarian had taken an interest in my project and would locate books for me on local history, on bears and birds native to Vermont.

I had also been reading from Ted Hughes ‘Tales from Ovid’ and came across Callisto and Arcus, the heart rending and hauntingly beautiful poem about the mother and son, who are eventually fated to become Ursa Major/Ursa Minor, two star patterns visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Then spun mother and son
up into a whirlwind
So these two about to be
In that bloody crime and
Tragic error.

Found themselves far out in space,
Transformed to constellations,
The Great Bear and the small,
Dancing round the Pole Star,

Callisto and Arcus
from Tales from Ovid, Ted Hughes

Finally due to lack of Bear sightings I determined to make my own Bear. Was this a talisman of protection or was it to attract the Bear; I don’t know. All I can say is I never saw one, but I did see a Moose and it was magnificent”.
Bronwynne Cornish, 2017

Cornish (b.1945) is one of New Zealand’s best known ceramic artists. Highlights in her career include representing New Zealand at the Brisbane Triennial in 1996 and a solo show at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki in 2002. She is an important figure in the recent history of New Zealand ceramics, in her role as both an artist and a teacher. Her approach towards her sculpture has seen her exhibit widely and earned her recognition and critical acclaim as a highly influential contributor to New Zealand ceramics and art-education. Cornish’s work can be found in major public and private collections in New Zealand and abroad including The Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland, The Dowse Art Museum, Wellington, The Collection of Foreign Affairs, Wellington, The Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland, and the Kobayashi Collection, Tokyo.


July 11
September 10
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