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Squeak Carnwath
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Abington, Penna.
A painter, printmaker and ceramicist, Squeak Carnwath has also had a long career as an educator. Her works feature fields of luminous color punctuated by symbols and words. She was born Shirley Carnwath Jr., in 1947 in Abington, Penna., the oldest of six children. “Squeak” was a family nickname she received as a child. Her father was a businessman who moved his family frequently in search of opportunity. Her father encouraged Carnwath to pursue art, and bought her paints, brushes and art supplies. She took art classes while in elementary school and Saturday art classes during high school. After graduating in 1966 from Jenkintown High School, Jenkintown, Penna., she studied art Monticello Junior College in Godfrey, Illinois, and became interested in ceramics. Carnwath graduated in 1968 with an AA degree. During the summer following her graduation, she studied art at the Aegean School of Fine Arts on Paros Island, one of the Cyclades islands of Greece (now the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts), where she met her future husband, Gary Knecht (b. 1946), a native of San Francisco. Carnwath and Knecht attended Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., during the following academic year, where she studied art, including ceramics and painting. The couple moved to the Bay Area in 1969, settling in Oakland where Carnwath attended the California College of Arts and Crafts (“CCAC,” now California College of the Arts) during 1970 and 1971; her teachers included ceramicists Viola Frey (1933-2004) and Vernon Coykendall (1907-1995). She dropped out of CCAC after three semesters and worked at various jobs, including serving as shop master in CCAC’s ceramics studio and as a teaching assistant to Coykendall. With local artist Jessie Russell, Carnwath opened the “Roxie and Toots’ Salon d’Art” gallery in an Oakland storefront to show her work. She and Knecht were married in 1973. The following year she resumed her studies at CCAC under Frey and Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) and received a Master of Fine Arts degree distinction in ceramics in 1977. After graduation Carnwath worked as the ceramics shop master at CCAC, and taught at Ohlone College, Fremont, Calif., for a year and then taught for a year as a guest artist at CCAC. In 1980 she received two significant awards, a Visual Artists Fellowship Grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which included an exhibition of her work at the museum. During the next two years she continued to work as the shop master in the CCAC ceramics department while creating her own works, now focused more on painting. Carnwath’s first solo exhibition at a San Francisco gallery was at the Hansen Fuller Goldeen Gallery in 1982. She served as a visiting artist and teacher at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) during academic year 1982-83. Her first published intaglio prints were issued in 1983 by Bruce Velick Editions of San Francisco. That year Carnwath joined the art faculty at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis), where her colleagues included Robert Arneson (1930-1992), Manuel Neri (b. 1930) and Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920). During her years teaching at UC Davis she was awarded several Faculty Research Awards and a Summer Fellowship. She was awarded a second NEA grant in 1985. Carnwath actively pursued printmaking, creating monoprints, monotypes and etchings at various presses, as well as lithographs at the Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, in 1991. The John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, held a solo exhibition of her work in 1989; the gallery continues to represent her. The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia, organized a solo exhibition of her paintings in 1994, which traveled to San Jose and Honolulu. Carnwath took a two-year leave of absence from UC Davis during 1993-1995, serving as an associate dean and teaching at CCAC for an academic year and working in her studio. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1994. Carnwath began an association with Paulson Press, Berkeley in 1997, eventually making some twenty-five editioned prints with the press through 2011. In 1998 she joined the UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice as a Professor-in-Residence, where she received several research awards and grants. Her 1999 mural “Fly, Flight, Fugit,” 49 panels of porcelain enamel on steel, each 30” x 30” or 210” x 210” in all, was commissioned by the San Francisco Art Commission for installation in the International Terminal of the San Francisco International Airport. In 2000 Carnwath, Knecht and Frey formed the Artists’ Legacy Foundation to hold artists’ works after their death, carry out their philanthropic legacies and recognize outstanding painters and sculptors. The Oakland Museum of California held a retrospective exhibition of her works in 2009. Carnwath retired from UC Berkeley in 2011, and is now a Professor Emeritus. She was elected a member of the National Academy of Design in 2019. She lives and works in Oakland. (TNB 5/2017) Selected bibliography: Tsujimoto, Karen and John Yau. Squeak Carnwath: Painting Is No Ordinary Object. Exhibition catalog. San Francisco: Pomegranate Communications in collaboration with the Oakland Museum of California, 2009.