In Memoriam

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Constance Victoria Earnshaw ’70

A picture of Constance Earnshaw

Constance Victoria Earnshaw ’70, November 11, 2013, from cancer, at home in Portland. Originally from Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, Connie came to Reed, where she earned a BA in biology and took classes in ceramics, drawing, printmaking, and calligraphy. Her work with Lloyd Reynolds [English & art 1929–69] nurtured an interest in Asian culture, which she went on to explore in graduate studies, she said. “I was given very high standards intellectually, which have served me well, as has my intense education in science, liberal arts, and visual arts. I gained a great deal by exposure to the creativity and intelligence of other students.” She completed an MFA in ceramics from Portland State University (1984), an MA in Chinese art history from the University of Oregon (1990), and was a PhD candidate in Chinese art history at the University of Washington. She worked as a professional potter, operating her own studio in Portland, creating ceramic sculpture and what she described as “functional” work. She also was a freelance artist doing graphics and design work that included illustration, posters, costume design, and calligraphy.

From her dear friend, Connie Crooker ’69, who supplied the details for this memorial, we learned that Connie’s vibrant creativity earned her renown as a top Oregon potter and ceramic sculptor. From the heads of her clay sculptures of kneeling goddesses sprout abundant tree-of-life vines in a frenzy of fragile foliage. She splashed her pottery with images of Portland’s Victorian homes, of perky animals, and of guitarists. Her work was shown in many galleries and in solo exhibitions at universities and cultural centers. “I met Connie as a colorfully clad young Reedie, dressed in multiple layers of vintage clothing, who had just discovered that the potter’s wheel gave her a delightful distraction from her tedious biology studies. Her wild mane of tousled curls, and her forthright confidence in her opinions on all subjects, were a force of nature.” After graduating from Reed, the two friends kept in touch with one another, finding and selling thrift store bargains, and playing music together, but ceramics remained her central focus. “Three-dimensional blackberries began to wind around her pieces,” says Connie C. “They grew out of the backs of her black dog Ruby, and out of the heads of her divine earth goddesses. She said the profusion of growth was inspired by Mexican tree-of-life ceramic pieces. To her, blackberries symbolized nature’s dominance over humankind’s futile attempts to control nature. She hated mown lawns. She loved riotous disarray, and she always rooted for the blackberries. She believed, like the poet Walt Whitman, that ‘the running blackberries would adorn the parlors of heaven.’”

Connie taught Asian art history at Portland State University and served as visiting professor or as adjunct faculty at Lewis & Clark College, the University of Portland, Clark College, Portland Community College, and the University of Washington. She knew sufficient Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese to converse and to aid her research. As an enthusiastic ceramics teacher, she inspired students at the Multnomah Arts Center, where she was assistant studio manager and instructor. She coordinated a tile mural project with youth at Outside In,and was a founding member of the cooperative Hawthorne Art Guild. Her creativity extended to music and dress. She played jazz guitar, sang, and composed music, which she sometimes performed at coffee houses. She wore layers of colorful clothing, channeling the free spirits of Isadora Duncan and Frida Kahlo. She and her husband, Shiaw Yen Lui, who were married in 1998, enjoyed camping, hiking, and exploring restaurants. Her notebooks of nature drawings serve as journals of their adventures. “If I had to describe Connie in one word,” says Connie C, “it would be ‘untamable.’ Her art, her unkempt hair, her unplucked eyebrows jutted in all directions with exuberance. In many ways, Connie lived the life that many people envy. Many of us put aside our creativity to earn our livings, and we plan to get back to our art after retirement, but the moment she first got her hands in clay back when she was in college, she knew her life’s course, and she never lost that vision. She breathed life and humor and endless imagination into her art, and the art she left for us is her abundant laughter made visible.” Survivors include her husband and her brother and sister.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2014

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