In 2003, I received an email from Pauline Shinazy’s granddaughter stating I was the only site on the web referencing her grandmother. From my research, I showed Pauline exhibiting primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area.
One of the exhibitions, where I discovered her name was at the prestigious 1956 Association of San Francisco Potters, held at the de Young Museum. A few months after this initial contact with Pauline’s granddaughter, we conducted this interview to explore her grandmother’s interesting history, as a member of the American Studio Pottery Movement.
Pauline Shinazy came from a lineage of strong women. Her grandmother left Paris, with no knowledge of the English language, to stake her claim in America. It is no wonder that Pauline inherited these ideals of a liberated woman in a non-liberated era. Pauline was born in 1900 in an area outside of San Francisco. In 1910, after the family home was lost in a fire, Pauline’s mother and aunt with the assistance of a handyman rebuilt their home. The main home had the craftsman or bungalow style, but over the generations, as the family grew, it was expanded, again and again. It is uncertain when Pauline first decided to create, but her first medium of choice was oil painting. In the mid-1930’s, an unfortunate family accident led to Pauline’s studio being destroyed. From this accident, she moved to the medium of pottery.
Pauline never formally studied pottery-making at an art school, and like many of potters from the Movement, she experimented in the medium to reach very desirable results. To create pottery, Pauline built a shed, where she kept a couple wheels of differing sizes and the necessary inputs to produce ceramic art. She also mixed her own glazes. Her pots were primarily functional in nature, and her granddaughter recalls using them for everyday life. The family is uncertain of the output created by Pauline, and her work should be considered rare because she was not a production potter.
Unless Pauline was going to a social event, she always wore trousers. Although a very sociable person, Pauline typically only shared her process of creating with her family. With six grandchildren, Pauline stirred the creative spirit in each of them and from speaking with her granddaughter; this spirit is as fiery as the day when it was introduced by Pauline many years ago.
She was a person who was always working with her hands. Pauline created pottery until the early 1960’s, when she progressed into the medium of jewelry making. She then ceased to create pottery. She constructed a new addition to her pottery shed to separate her jewelry making from everything else. It was this progression and dedication from medium to medium, which appears to be a common theme in her design.
Although there was a period, where her work showed Native American influence, she created from a “sphere of vision,” where her design represented a unique meandering of her translation from objects in nature and everyday life. The jewelry making was particularly memorable for her granddaughter because of the interesting hunts for different stones in California and Nevada. The trips to Lovelock, Nevada were especially poignant because they searched for a particular stone indigenous to this area of the Silver state.
It’s not only the quality of the art but also the quality of the person I have come to know from this interview. For me, an artist that moves from medium to medium with a very smooth shift of the gears is what I consider a desirable and rare trait of a great artist.
As a pottery collector, I feel lucky, that Pauline chose the medium of pottery at one point to express her creative will. I know when I discover the first Shinazy signed ceramic piece for my collection that it will not only be a quality find, but a tangible sense of the magic she created.
Charlie B. Gallery
200 E. Main St., Fernley, NV
Editing & photo by Shinazy