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From law breakers to law makers, suffragists to unionists, bronc riders to ball players, Bold Women of Montana celebrates Women’s History Month in our state! Learn more about 23 bold women of Montana. Listen every weekday in March at 8:42 a.m. and 2:04 p.m., and find the latest episodes here.

Bold Women: Frances Senska, artist and transformational teacher

Frances Senska works on pottery during a 1997 interview with MontanaPBS.
MontanaPBS, Frances Senska - Art All the Time
Frances Senska works on pottery during a 1997 interview in the MontanaPBS film "Frances Senska - Art All the Time".

At exhibits, ceramicist Frances Senska kept her artist’s statement simple: “I make pots.”

Frances was born March 9, 1914, in Cameroon, West Africa, the only child of missionaries. Even as a kid, she noticed how the Batanga people around her made objects as needed, from local clay or wood, and always decorated them.

Frances would do the same in her future art, marrying the useful and beautiful, digging her own local clay. Frances’s father, a doctor AND cabinetmaker, taught Frances to use his tools.

She returned to Iowa for high school, then studied industrial art. But in industry, designers start a process. Others finish it.

Wanting control from start to finish, Frances switched to fine arts. She served in the Navy during World War II, then, in 1946, Montana State College (today’s MSU) hired her to teach art. Artist and professor Jessie Wilber was already there.

The two women led the transformation of the art department, physically and philosophically. Part of Home Economics and located in the Home Ec basement, the department became a vibrant, cutting-edge hub.

Students and teachers learned together, experimentation and collaboration reigned, Modernism pervaded the teaching and work, and everyone lived and breathed art.

Life companions Francis Senska and Jessie Wilber hugely impacted art and the arts community in Montana. Together, in 1988, they received the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. More on Jessie tomorrow.

Watch Frances Senska - Art All the Time from MontanaPBS

This audio podcast contains an error corrected here in the text. Frances Senska was born on March 9, not March 23.

Beth Judy is the author of Bold Women in Montana History and a limited audio series based on the book. She previously hosted and produced The Plant Detective, a locally produced and nationally syndicated program.
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