Frances Maude Senska
1914 - 2009
Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service
113 South Willson Avenue
Bozeman, MT
Frances Maude Senska, potter and retired art professor, 95, died peacefully at home on December 25, 2009.
Born March 9, 1914, in Batanga, in what was then the German colony of Kamerun, Africa, Frances was the only child of Georgia B. Herald Senska and Dr. Frank Radcliff Senska. Dr. and Mrs. Senska were Presbyterian missionaries in Africa where he founded the Sakbayémé Hospital in the Bassa region and she taught at the mission school. They educated Frances at home in the highlands of what became French Cameroun.
The family moved to Iowa City in 1929, where Senska attended University High School. She earned her BA in graphic arts (1935) and her MA in applied design (1939) at the University of Iowa.
Frances then accepted a teaching job at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. She taught there from 1939 until 1942, when, under wartime pressures, Grinnell eliminated the art teaching job.
Continuing her art studies, Frances took classes at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles during the summer of 1941 and at the School (later Institute) of Design in Chicago during the summer of 1942. One of her instructors in Chicago was László Moholy-Nagy, who had taught at the Bauhaus School in Berlin and who founded the School of Design as the "New Bauhaus."
From the fall of 1942 into early 1946, Frances served in the Navy. She attended service schools in Oklahoma and Massachusetts, and she learned to fly. As a commissioned officer (Women's Reserve, Ensign and later Lieutenant) Senska served in Georgia, Massachusetts, and California.
While posted in San Francisco, Frances became interested in ceramics through a class taught by the potter Edith Heath at the California Labor School. After the war Frances used the GI bill to return to school, initially at the University of Iowa. During the summer of 1946, she studied ceramics with the Finnish designer Maija Grotell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.
In the fall of 1946 Frances moved to Bozeman to teach art at Montana State College. She established the ceramic arts program. Some of her former students include Rudy Autio, Ray Campeau, George Dunbar, Lyndon Pomeroy, and Peter Voulkos, as well as many generations to follow. Frances taught at Montana State University until 1973, and thereafter she worked out of her pottery studio at home.
Frances's early years in Africa influenced her art throughout her life. Other influences include her father's skill as a woodworking craftsman, her interest in architecture, a modern art exhibition seen in Paris at an early age, the Bauhaus school of design, art studies in general, and classes taught by potters in particular, including a summer workshop taught by Marguerite Wildenhain at Pond Farm in Guerneville, California, in 1950.
Frances and her friend Jessie Wilber (painter, printmaker, and also teacher at MSU) collaborated in life as well as in art. With the architect Hugo Eck, they designed their home on Sourdough Road, which was built in 1953. Frances added a pottery studio next door to the house in 1969. Senska and Wilber both actively supported students and the arts throughout their lives. The Frances Senska Pottery and Jessie Wilber Gallery at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture (formerly at the Beall Park Art Center) and the Senska Wilber Graduate Studios at Montana State University commemorate their individual and shared contributions to the arts.
Frances helped establish the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena. She was a director and fellow of the Montana Institute of Arts and an honorary life member of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts.
Frances never retired from the arts, still throwing pots into her 90's. The last major exhibition of her work was the retrospective Frances Senska: A Life in Art, at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena in 2004 and traveling the state for the next two years.
Awards include the Montana Governor's Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, the Archie Bray Foundation's Meloy-Stevenson award of Distinction, the American Craft Council's Fellow Award, and an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree from Montana State University.
Frances was preceded in death by her parents and her dear friend Jessie Wilber. All of us who knew her, studied under her, were inspired by her and were befriended by her will always cherish those memories.A celebration of her life will be announced soon.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made in Frances's name to: MSU School of Art, Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, or Heart of the Valley Humane Society.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service;
Published by Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Dec. 28, 2009.
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11 Entries
For a bit of time, I had the honor of assisting Frances and Jesse with housework in their home. The education they freely gave me, often without a word, on art, art history, the necessary character of a grounded artist with integrity, all made profound impressions.

I still own a cup of hers, a gift, which remains the very finest thrown ceramic object I've ever held. Earthenware but light, not one scratchy edge inside or out, unglazed, symmetrical, the handle fitting like a glove, looking at once like something meant to pour tea into but also headed for a protected shelf. It has the image of a horse on it, facing left. She said the first firing of a kiln of hers always had "horses facing left" for good luck. I also own a cookie jar (if one can call it that, though she would) and one of her thrown birds. The lines and the colors, subtle, unassuming, almost like an architectural find yet modern in sensibility. What might be coinced masculinely earthen, yet feminine in its form and message.

I had the sad task of being housekeeper when Jesse Wilber died. Her bravery in the face of tremendous pain was an example to us all. Frances' dealt with the situation publically like the First Lady of Ceramics she was, not by self-appointment, but by nature.

Jesse's print was chosen for a cover of a book at the time, featuring one of her prints "Magpies in a Snow Storm" ---it has a magical mysterious daylight beauty usually only witnessed in an evening scene. You can almost "hear" the snow fall that is featured all around the magpies.

At home, Jesse and Frances lifestyle was "green" before being "green" was a political movement. I still rinse my clothes with vinegar and remember putting their clothing through a hand turned wringer. Cleaning and doing some cooking for them was a quiet adventure.

Once Frances and I were passing the line of photographs on a brick wall at MSU which honored their homecoming queens, past and present. I did not expect the response she gave, while stopping to gaze at the photos and smile, "Look at how lovely they are!" She accepted them, and most people, at face value, without prior judgment.

Frances gave endlessly to organizations in need, without even a note of it. I am certain that today, the condition of Haiti would be on her agenda, although without mention of it.

Frances pottery was sold, at her insistence, at affordable prices. There was no sign of the arrogant insistance upon monetary value of her work being what she "deserved" (which certainly in the last few decades of her life she could have "named her price").

Her art work had boundaries which allowed growth to be not without a comfort, consistency without banality, historically based without a narcissistic motive, privately interpretated while allowing others to enjoy them just as they were or "read" into them what they perceived. Frances' work embodied the highest quality of crafting, pushed the limit of craft as "Art" without even having to explain (or any compunction to do so!). She taught me that art was something we looked for in life, not what we spent time prejudging. To prejudge would be block to the Finding.

She and Jesse's work ethics were monastic in the very best sense of the word.
I am saddened that Frances has now passed on. I admired them both for sure, but held a special adoration for Frances. Her lifestyle, art, and teachings have molded much of my adult response to challenges.
I stood in awe of the Honorable Frances Senska, and have held a deep but distant love for her over the years, as I am most certain, hundreds of those who have passed by her in life have felt.

A rare combination of confidence and humility, joy not without concern, were constants in her personality.
May the History which follows her do her that pleasure.
May you rest in Peace and Heaven.
Lucy (Curtis) Csurka, MFA, MEd
January 14, 2010
Frances Senska and Jessie Wilber befriended three young MSU students in the fall of 1981 and through their generosity and curiosity of adventurous souls, agreed to allow an 18 foot, prairie style tipi camp to evolve on their property, among the cottonwood and quaking aspen along Sourdough Creek.

At the time, we did not fully appreciate these wonderful women's influences on the world of art. We did, however, understand and were eternally grateful for the kindness they bestowed upon our developing lives.

It was an act of faith and understanding to encourage these three young men to explore their more primitive side.

Their generosity also proved to be a lasting civics lesson that has left me with fond memories to last for a lifetime.

Thank you both, Frances and Jessie, for your spirit and your art.
Bryan Steubs
January 12, 2010
Frances was a "grand dame" of Bozeman. Through her own art, her support of other artists and her appreciation of all cultural events, she lived a wonderful life. I first met her as a swimmer at the Bozeman Swim Center. Well into her seventies, Frances wore an orange bikini, and swam for a full hour. She was an inspiration to us all. Sarah Helfrich (Bozeman)
January 6, 2010
Frances was a "grand dame" of Bozeman. Through her own art, her support of other artists and her appreciation of all cultural events, she lived a wonderful life. I first met her as a swimmer at the Bozeman Swim Center. Well into her seventies, Frances wore an orange bikini, and swam for a full hour. She was an inspiration to us all. Sarah Helfrich (Bozeman)
January 6, 2010
Ya Ba Bo. (It will be nine=good luck.) Our food is served in her dishes; her hands bless our bread. In Syracuse, years ago, at a Masters of Ceramic Arts show, I was drawn her piece inscribed with YaBaBo. She wrote me, explaining YaBaBo just as I was reading Dante, who said ‘Beatrice is the number nine.’ When we came back to Bozeman, we organized a celebration for the total solar eclipse, and on our doorstep i found a beautiful covered jar –with YaBaBo and an eclipse in the clay. It's on my dining table today. Frances has filled our lives with YaBaBo. Frances Senska is the number nine.
Lynda Sexson
January 2, 2010
For a young graduate of the ceramics program at MSU in 1979, it was a kind of right of passage to be invited for tea with Francis and Jessie. I could never forget the first sight of the inside of her beautiful pottery studio, which has served well in the design of my own studio. Thank you Francis; I wish I could have been your student.
David Beumee
December 31, 2009
I took a design course from Francis Senska in the early 60's at, then, MSC, and she was a wonderful teacher and I've used elements of that course throughout my life. May she rest in artistic peace.
Gary Maroney
December 30, 2009

A "special" teacher and friend, and life time influence. I'll never forget her.
Thank you to those that have been close to her these last years as her friend, caregiver, advisor, and confidant.
Sue Bjorklund-Eik
December 28, 2009
As gracious as a winter night and a summer day are long, Frances was sincere, earnest, talented, artistic, nature-loving, fair-minded, and productive. I am lucky, and I am a better person, because she was my friend.
Anne Millbrooke
December 28, 2009
She had a long and impactful life and lived well. May she be Blessed in her transition and live on in the hearts and souls of those whom she impacted.
Candace Hiner
December 28, 2009
She used Art not only to teach ceramics, but to teach lessons in life.
I've carried her lessons with me thru my life and have passed them on to my children.

Thank you
Sue M. Heald
December 28, 2009
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