Paula Gustafson, visual-arts writer, editor, publisher, mentor, and advocate, died of cancer in Vancouver on July 11. She was 65 years old, had long produced an award-winning art magazine, and had contributed hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays to publications in her native Canada as well as in Australia, England, and Hong Kong. These included the Georgia Straight, for which she was a visual-arts critic in the 1990s. A scholar of First Nations textiles, she wrote a definitive book in 1980 called Salish Weaving (Douglas & McIntyre). More recently, she conceived, edited, and contributed to two acclaimed volumes of essays, Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse (Ronsdale Press, 2002 and 2005).
“Paula made an amazing contribution to art and artists across Canada,” said local critic and curator Ann Rosenberg, citing the importance of arts writing in enriching our cultural fabric. Rosenberg also mentioned the ways in which she benefited professionally from knowing and working with Gustafson. “She was an immense source of knowledge and a very careful, literate, and conscientious editor....I'll miss Paula, her knowledgeable professionalism in all of the arts, and all she had yet to teach me.” Gustafson also worked as a consultant to young artists and generously mentored emerging arts writers.
Gustafson had recently undertaken the editorship of the Calgary-based magazine Galleries West but was best known as the force behind the visual-arts quarterly Artichoke, which she founded in 1989 and ran until it folded in 2005. The magazine was clearly a labour of love: apart from the occasional $125 writer's fee, Gustafson never paid herself for her role as editor/publisher/business-and-circulation manager. In her final posting on Artichoke's Web site, she wrote, “One of the rules of life is to give freely to those things you love.”
Another of Gustafson's signal contributions was as an advocate of craft and its critical significance within the visual-arts realm. “She made a special effort to publish materials about ceramics, glass, textile arts, and other forms often dismissed as ‘craft' and not valued as the original and creative artworks they are,” observed Rosenberg. In addition to the two volumes of Craft Perception and Practice, Gustafson published three special issues of Artichoke dedicated to the subject. She also won the first Jean A. Chalmers Fund for the Crafts Award for critical writing on Canadian craft.
Gustafson kept her final illness private from most of her colleagues and continued to work until the last week of her life. She leaves behind two daughters, Nisse Gustafson and Monica Schmutz, as well as four grandchildren. In a 2003 convocation speech at the Alberta College of Art, Gustafson declared, “Art isn't about the bottom line. It's a hallmark of civilized society.” Then she added what might serve as her epitaph: “Our success is measured not in what we get, but in what we give.”
A tribute to Paula Gustafson is published at paula-artichoke.blogspot.com/.