Valley Girl | Mingei International Museum
Gail Schneider's butterfly sculptures made from "No Trespassing" signs
Image: Gail Schneider's butterfly sculptures made from "No Trespassing" signs

Schneider was born in Kingston, New York and says the landscape has always had an impact on her imagination and dreams, and inspired her to become an artist. After living in San Francisco, Oakland, Buffalo, New York City and the Catskill Mountains, she moved in 1997 to San Diego, where she lives with the writer David Matlin. She has her studio, her garden, the desert and ocean as constant inspiration. Media used are clay, wood and found objects in an attempt to make a connection to nature and the world. In 2014, she became a member of the Board of Trustees for Mingei International Museum.

Is this the new series for the next Mingei exhibition?

Yes. The first one I made was not quite the right color for monarch butterflies. The signs were found at Ace Hardware. It’s hard to find metal, but they had these. I’m going to submit this for the upcoming show.

It’s perfect for the exhibition theme of "metamorphosis."

I was doing this before the theme came up. I was making insect pieces that led to these (monarchs). I am also concerned about both the insect and human migrations, so I think it’s appropriate.

Were these shown recently?

No. Right now I have a piece at the airport. If you fly Alaska Gate 24, Terminal 2.

Are insects a common theme in your work?

I did a whole series of insects. If you join the San Diego Natural History Museum for $50 a year, you can take specimens home for a week or two. The mice or owls they have to loan are not the greatest specimens, but they’re still a working resource.

Was there a pinned insect collection of yours on the Allied Craftsmen website?

No, I don’t believe the insects are on the Allied Craftsmen site. They are in here.

They get their own room?

This is my storage room. I did a series with steel rods to mount them as specimens. They are all carved wood.

This is a rhinoceros beetle pinned on a steel rod.

Wendy Maruyama corrected me in my carving. I was using one piece of wood for the legs, and she told me I should carve them in sections and dowel them together. She’s also given me scraps of wood I can carve since I only need little pieces.

Have you worked with any of the other members?

I don’t really collaborate. I work by myself and don’t work in groups well. I like to putter around and be by myself in the studio. Occasionally, I’ll do a workshop, but not an entire week.

Do you consider yourself an artist or artisan?

I’m an artist, but I think craftspeople are artists.

Did you join Allied Craftsmen when you first moved to San Diego?

I’ve been in San Diego 22 years. A few years after I got here, I joined Allied Craftsmen. I was doing more sculptural forms in ceramics and applied with them. I sort of fit in a weird space because I’m not really a ceramicist. We’re supposed to choose an area of specialization. I’m all over the place. Erik Gronborg does both ceramics and woodwork. People have told me I’m not a ceramicist and probably they’re correct.

Who are your influences? I read you studied with Peter Voulkos.

I studied sculpture, not ceramics, with Voulkos at UC Berkeley. It was a strong program. Richard Shaw, Robert Hudson and other art faculty were around. It would have been nice to have studied ceramics. It’s harder on me that I’m self-taught but it leaves more unexpected space open for my imagination. Formally I studied sculpture and painting, and received the Pollock Krasner grant in ’89 which allowed me the time to begin an exploration in clay.

Were there any inspirations from Black Mountain School or from your time spent in New York City?

I was too young to go to Black Mountain, but my husband studied with Robert Creeley. He introduced us to John Cage and Merce Cunningham and many other New York artists. We lived in New York in the seventies, in SoHo. It was easier to meet people then. They were not so guarded. We had been in Buffalo and when we first moved, they were making King Kong with Jessica Lang, at the World Trade Center. We ran down there, and there was King Kong lying on the ground. We thought, “Wow, this is New York!”

Many of us worked as waitresses or in galleries. Sherrie Levine worked at McGoo’s. I worked at a Greek restaurant and at Castelli and John Weber Gallery. Robert Rauchenberg had an opening at MOMA and invited all the workers that had helped him to an after-opening party. He had rented an entire Staten Island Ferry, and there was Tex Mex food and a band on each level. David and I were looking out over the water from the pilot house as we sailed up the river and there was Rauchenberg standing behind us.

It really was an open and exciting time.

The tradition of Allied Craftsmen seems very rich.

Allied Craftsmen always has been a strong group. People were engaged and met every month, when there was only 30 of them, to socialize and talk about art. There wasn’t a huge community at the time, but there were really fine artists at work including Arline Fisch and Erik Gronborg. Now there are more like 70, but all are not active. We have four meetings a year, and you need to come to one. I think the group has become more unified and people seem to be more energized about being a member, and they are enjoying the benefits of being among a group of artists.

We’re interested in the history of Allied Craftsmen and showcasing new talent alongside established talent.

We would like to take new artists. There are wonderful artists in San Diego like Kerianne Quick; she’s a great jeweler. I’m hoping they will do that. We raised dues. It was only 25 dollars per year for the past few decades; now it’s 50. You don’t have to pay for shows and application fees.

David Browne is the president, and he’s part of the ironworkers we might go visit in Ramona.

His studio is spectacular. He does high-end ironwork in a huge warehouse everyone would die to have. He has all the equipment, too, and all this room. He has worked very hard to unite Allied Craftsmen.

Is Allied Craftsmen how you connected with Mingei?

Mingei has always been very supportive of Allied Craftsmen. CRAFT REVOLUTION was the more contemporary exhibition. After the Balboa Park Mingei show in 2013, they asked me if I would be an interested in being on the Board.

What was the appeal of joining Mingei?

I loved art of all cultures, and it was the best museum in Balboa Park. I’ve met interesting people on other Boards but never quite like this one. We don’t have any drama. Everyone is really wonderful, and they believe in the mission of Mingei.

That’s why they’re there.

I would never have met them otherwise.

Butterfly sculptures made from No Trespassing” signs

What’s it like being an artist in San Diego?

It’s difficult to be an artist in San Diego. There aren’t many galleries, and you’re competing with L.A., which doesn’t even recognize art below L.A.

You’ve been on advisory boards, committees at other arts institutions like SDAI. What do you think the future of art in San Diego holds?

I’m hopeful about the art scene in San Diego. We all get to know each other and are supportive of each other, and attend each others’ openings, and we have independent art spaces like Bread & Salt and Art Produce. There are terrific artists in San Diego—some that don’t show much in San Diego—like Robert Irwin and Eleanor Antin, around since the sixties. The gallery scene is difficult in San Diego, so they showed in other places. Galleries of community colleges like Mesa are taking risks other places wouldn’t or can’t. Grossmont has a new performing arts center with a gallery; Alex Acosta is the director. They’re adding real vitality in an area of untapped potential that I think is fascinating.

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