Gretchen Hooves has become quite the recluse in her later years, choosing only to appear on certain club nights, so it is with no little excitement that I welcome the news that she has agreed to be interviewed by me as part of our small collected history of the Muse Lounge. An accomplished flautist in her early teens, Gretchen first met her future husband and creative partner, Cedric Hooves while they were both attending art school in the late 1950s. From there, romance and exciting business was to follow. I go to meet Gretchen in the early afternoon at the Muse Lounge. She appears a long green gown and with one of her now trademark paisley head scarves and joins me for a mai tai and a little conversation.
JANWILLEM DORIN: Tell me about your work at the Delft College of Arts and Sciences. What were you reading there?
GRETCHEN HOOVES: I was working in the field of interpretative ceramics, which was a very progressive school of ceramics in Delft. It's difficult work because you are pushing the materials to their limit. It's also very labour intensive because the completed structures are fragile and need to be rushed into the kiln quickly before their finer points start to sag. The masters of interpretative ceramics actually work with the kiln door open, the fire burning right at their shoulder, the hands of the flames actually waiting to accept the completed ceramic form as it passes from the hands of the master. This is a very exciting thing to see - very emotional, although obviously not for beginners as there are many dangers. It was certainly not an acceptable working environment for a young girl like myself.
JWD: Why was that?
GH: [laughs] The official reason was that because we girls were all wearing our hair very long then, in the bohemian style, that there was some concern that it would catch fire.
JWD: But you wore safety equipment, working with the kilns like that, surely.
GH: Oh, but of course. There was a big hood that you wore with a face plate - a very heavy thing, my goodness, with shoulder pads that would catch on your clothes. I don't know how many sweaters I ruined putting it on and taking it off. But no, of course, safety was not the reason at all. Although the field of ceramics has attracted many women - some of the greatest ceramics designers in the Netherlands have been women - the field of interpretative ceramics was very male dominated, like the Beats - they didn't like women. We were ornaments to them, a little, I think.
JWD: And yet you were attracting to what sounds like a difficult and perhaps dangerous working method.
GH: It wasn't too difficult. As long as one worked honestly, and with feeling - that was the main thing. We all got very muddy of course, because you work with a very wet clay, especially for the last stage of a work, but that was part of the fun, I think. There was a system of mechanical arms for lifting the finished pieces into the furnace, so that made that part of the job easier.
JWD: So the machines freed you to work.
GH: They did the lifting, yes, although they didn't do the thinking for you of course. We called them robot arms but really they were a system of pulleys and weights with only rudimentary electronic component to record and repeat movements. The switches were sound operated. When your piece was finished you would step back and clap your gloves over your head - because the safety hood muffled your normal speech - and the pulley arms would lower and pick up your wet sculpture and lift it into the furnace. We girls of course, thought this was fantastic.
JWD: And of course, the sound switch -
GH: Yes! The sound switch was always breaking down. The mechanism was very crude technology. The person who could fix it was Cedric. He was quite the audiophile even back then.
JWD: Was that significant?
GH: At the time it was very brave. There was a lot of union opposition to this sort of automation. People felt it would cost jobs in the ceramics industry if the furnace blasting process was controlled by machines. It's a big industry in the Netherlands - interpretative ceramics was very far to the left of that of course, but there was concern that these very bourgeois concepts and experiments would leech into the lifeblood of the industry and poison it for others.
-- Janwillem Dorin
Jazz Dispatch March 2002
(First reproduced | Mar 29, 2003)