BiographyFrances Senska was born in 1914. She was raised in Cameroon where her parents were working as missionaries. Her father earned his way through medical school as a cabinet maker and craftsman, eventually teaching his daughter how to use his tools. Senska was home-schooled by her mother, who was a trained teacher. During World War I, Senska's parents returned to the United States, resuming their life in Africa after the war. After migrating back to the United States, Senska attended University High School in Iowa City, IA.
Senska earned both BA and MA degrees from the University of Iowa, majoring in art. During her college years, she was especially interested in sculpting wood figures using local woods. After graduating, Senska taught drawing, painting, and design at Grinnell College for three years. During World War II, Senska joined the Navy and was stationed in San Francisco, CA. At that time, she enrolled in art classes at the California Labor School which used "real, usable clay" and learned to throw on the wheel. She took courses at the San Francisco Art Institute and at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, MI, studying with Maija Grotell. She also took a summer course at the Chicago School of Design taught by Moholy Nagy. Senska attended the Pond Farm summer workshops founded by Marguerite Wildenhain in 1950. Like Wildenhain, Senska sold some of her ceramics art at Gump's famous department store in San Francisco. Senska's education included attendance at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT, where she studied with well-known ptters, Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos.
Senska taught ceramics at Montana State College for many years. After retirement, she continued to create ceramic art in her studio in Bozeman, MT. She received the Montana Governor's Award for the Arts. In 1982, she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Montana State University. She was made an American Craft Fellow in 1988. Senska died December 25, 2009.
Senska worked a lot with local clay, especially during her early years in Montana. She also made her own glazes, producing pottery in earth-tones. When interviewed for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, she commented that "I often do things which will kind of bring the body of the clay out into the surface, into the finished form so it isn't completely covered with glaze, or it has designs cut through it or sort of carved enough so that the glazes will move on the pot and go into the design." She also noted that the decorations she used are based on nature and her surroundings.
The lidded bowl in the Pond Farm Collection was created in 2001. It is stoneware, wheel-thrown with a highfire clay body. The bowl has a cream and gold body decorated with a brown and blue vegetable motif. An in-house glaze was used and accentuated with scoring. The domed lid has three strap handles at the top. the interior of the bowl and lid are glazed dark brown.
Source of BiographyRipples: Marguerite Wildenhain and her Pond Farm Students. Curated by Billie Sessions. San Bernardino, CA: California State University, 2002;
Pond Farm Collection: Works of Art Created by Students Who Studied with Marguerite Wildenhain at her Pond Farm Studio. Text by Jane Kemp. Decorah, IA: Luther College, 2003;
Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, Interview with Frances Senska in Bozeman, MT, April 16,2001;
Smith, Marjorie. "Frances Senska." Ceramics Monthly, 50:7, 2002