BREACH: Logbook 21 | CONVOKE







Shinnecock, b. 1980

lives and works in Northfield, MN

Courtney M. Leonard is an artist and filmmaker, who has contributed to the Offshore Art movement. Leonard’s current work embodies the multiple definitions of “breach”, an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability. In collaboration with national and international museums, cultural institutions, and indigenous communities in North America, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, and the United States Embassies, Leonard’s practice investigates narratives of cultural viability as a reflection of environmental record.

Leonard’s work is in the permanent public collections of the United States Art In Embassies, the Crocker Art Museum, the Heard Museum, ASU’s Art Museum and Ceramic Research Center, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of the North, the Mystic Seaport Museum, and the Pomona Museum of Art.

Leonard has been the recipient of numerous awards, fellowships, and residencies that include The Andy Warhol Foundation, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The Rasmuson Foundation, The United States Art In Embassies Program, and The Native Arts and Culture Foundation.

Courtney Leonard, “BREACH: Logbook 21 | NEBULOUS | FLOW TRAP STUDY G1”, 2021, Coiled & Woven Earthenware, Appx. 15” x 15” x 5.5″


“Breach” is an exploration of historical ties to water and whale, imposed law, and a current relationship of material sustainability. Navigation lies within visual translation; an account of relations and responsibility.
Charting exists as a log of record; the documentation and mapping of each point where the surface breaks.
As a visual acknowledgment, each work examines the evolution of language, image, and culture through video, audio, and tangible objects. Each component, a resonation of memory, documenting both social and environmental issues acknowledged through the cartography of mixed media.”

– Courtney M. Leonard, Shinnecock Nation

Courtney Leonard, "BREACH: Logbook 24 | TRANSCENDENCE", 2024, Installation at Friedman Benda, NYC, Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Courtney M. Leonard. Photography by Timothy Doyon.

Courtney Leonard, “BREACH: Logbook 24 | TRANSCENDENCE”, 2024, Installation at Friedman Benda, NYC, Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Courtney M. Leonard. Photography by Timothy Doyon.

Read More & View the Exhibition Page HERE

ON BREACH | Essay for The New Transcendence By Glenn Adamson

Why do we ever speak of a shore line? Where the water meets the sea, we find anything but a fixed boundary. All is flux, in all dimensions. As the tide rolls in and out, natural forms are perpetually revealed, concealed, and incrementally shaped. The forces involved are of astronomical scale, but this perpetual metamorphic flow is an intimate matter for those who live by, and make their living from, the sea. 

Among those with that deep understanding are the people of the Shinnecock Nation, whose unceded aboriginal lands are on the eastern end of Long Island. That heritage of insight, in turn, forms a firm foundation for artist Courtney M. Leonard. For the past decade, she has devoted herself largely to a series entitled, simply, Breach – a word that can imply underhanded betrayal (as in “breach of contract”) or on the contrary, a sudden emergence into visibility (as when a whale breaches). 

The ambiguity is telling, for fluidity can be seen throughout Leonard’s work, not only at the level of depiction – the wall-based work included in The New Transcendence can be read as the aerial map of a coastal zone, punctuated by fishing weirs – but also at the levels of making and meaning. It could also be an abstract painting, or a constellation. For as Leonard notes, “to understand the land and water, you also need to understand the sky.”    

Ceramics is, of course, a discipline born of the encounter between earth and water. Leonard has said that as she coils and interlaces the wet clay, bestowing intricate form upon it, the repetition of process prompts her to enter a meditative frame of mind, a self-transcendence akin perhaps to dreaming. When looking at the finished work, we are to some extent admitted into that same state of transport. To borrow from the late anthropologist and art critic Alfred Gell, Leonard’s cage-like structures function as traps, snaring us in a nexus of intention and reference.  

But if Leonard’s work is about various forms of capture – of time, space, and yes, of thought itself – she also approaches that dynamic with great care. She speaks of Indigenous techniques of aquaculture as being in a relationship of respect to nature; rather than locating weirs within migratory channels, for example, they are positioned off to one side, so as not to obstruct passage. Those fish that do get caught are, in a sense, offering themselves as sustenance; practically speaking, this method also prevents overfishing, ensuring the sustenance future generations. This ought to be the model for how we humans treat natural resources; it ought to be the model for design.

– Glenn Adamson, 2024
Curator, writer, historian


Courtney M. Leonard, "BREACH: Logbook 23 | BREACH #2", Wooden pallet w/ ceramic Sperm Whale teeth, 3' x 4' x 3' (40-60 teeth)

Courtney M. Leonard, “BREACH: Logbook 23 | BREACH #2”, Wooden pallet w/ ceramic Sperm Whale teeth, 3′ x 4′ x 3′ (40-60 teeth)


Solo Exhibition |  New Bedford Whaling Museum | New Bedford, MA
June 1 through November 3, 2024


Hudson River Museum
Yonkers, NY
on view February 2, 2024 – September 1, 2024

A group exhibition of American artists from the 1820s to the present day illuminating our profound, symbiotic relationship with significant rivers across the globe, from the Hudson and the Susquehanna to the Indus and the Seine.

Courtney M . Leonard, "BREACH | Logbook 21 | CONVOKE | Abundance Basket and Contour", 2021, multi-ply birch wood and acrylic, coiled and woven earthenware, coiled micaceous clay, oyster shells, ~ 6 x 15 x 15" (basket), 2.5 x 40 x 48" (wood contour form), John Polak Photography.

Courtney M . Leonard, “BREACH | Logbook 21 | CONVOKE | Abundance Basket and Contour”, 2021, multi-ply birch wood and acrylic, coiled and woven earthenware, coiled micaceous clay, oyster shells, ~ 6 x 15 x 15″ (basket), 2.5 x 40 x 48″ (wood contour form), John Polak Photography.

Friedman Benda
New York, NY
January 11, 2024 – February 24, 2024

A group exhibition that explores the place of the spiritual in contemporary design today.

Courtney Leonard, The New Transcendence Installation at Friedman Benda, New York, NY, 2024

Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams, MA
July 15 – September 3, 2023

A group exhibition celebrating the gallery’s 40+ years as leaders in ceramic art.

Ferrin Contemporary, "Are We There Yet?", 2023, Exhibition Installation View with work by Chris Antemann, Courtney M. Leonard, Sergei Isupov, Crystal Morey, & Kurt Weiser, Photo by John Polak Photography

Ferrin Contemporary, “Are We There Yet?”, 2023, Exhibition Installation View with work by Chris Antemann, Courtney M. Leonard, Sergei Isupov, Crystal Morey, & Kurt Weiser, Photo by John Polak Photography

The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY
June 10 – November 12, 2023

A solo exhibition paired with a public art installation at Planting Fields Foundation.

COURTNEY M. Leonard: Logbook 2004-2023, installation at The Heckscher Museum, 2023.

Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Ontario
June 8 – 18, 2023

A 10-day celebration of recent contemporary ceramic art by regional and international artists.

Gardiner Museum, ICAF 2023


•   BREACH   

Courtney M. Leonard, "BREACH: LOGBOOK 15 | ABUNDANCE: JADE", 2015, ceramic, steel base, ~19 x 20 x 6". Collection of Agnes Hsu-Tang, Ph.D. and Oscar Tang Courtesy of the Artist, Courtney M. Leonard | Shinnecock Nation

Nature, Crisis, Consequence

New-York Historical Society, New York, NY | March 31 – July 16, 2023

Nature, Crisis, Consequence is a groundbreaking art exhibition that looks at the social and cultural impact of the environmental crisis on different communities across America. Showcasing works drawn from New-York Historical’s permanent collection, recent acquisitions, and loaned works, which collectively span the history of the United States, the exhibition explores subjects ranging from the proto-environmentalism of the Hudson River School to the razing of homes and churches to clear land for Central Park, the environmental and human tolls of the transcontinental railroad, and Indigenous artists’ calls to environmental action.

Exhibition highlights include the five-part series Course of Empire, Thomas Cole’s urgent warning against uncontrolled expansion into the natural world; an arresting seascape by Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) overlaid by an abstract Pequot/Narragansett pattern which reclaims the present-day New England coast as Indigenous; and a woven ceramic basket by Courtney M. Leonard (Shinnecock) inspired by the mass fish die-offs on Long Island caused by climate change. Curated by Wendy Nālani E. Ikemoto, senior curator of American Art at New-York Historical

Build on this Gesture features eight studio artists currently working and teaching within St. Olaf College’s Department of Art and Art History and Flaten Art Museum: Krista Anderson-Larson, D’Angelo Christian, Sophie W. Eisner, Courtney M. Leonard, Peter Bonde Becker Nelson, Anders Nienstaedt, John Saurer, and Michon Weeks. The work on view reflects the artists’ current research, expertise, and teaching interests, as well as emergent forms that embrace experimentation. The word “gesture” was used by many of the exhibiting artists to describe an aspect of, or motivation for, their work. Their meanings varied (expressive body movement, emphasis, symbolic offering, human connection) but always suggested something preliminary—something to build on.

An accompanying exhibition catalog highlights eight distinguished essayists working across Minnesota as curators, artists, writers, and creatives: Kehayr Brown-Ransaw, Zoe Cinel, Mike Curran, Heid E. Erdrich, Laura Wertheim Joseph, Matthew Villar Miranda, Melanie Pankau, and Andy Sturdevant. Each writer was paired with one exhibiting artist, and the pair became acquainted through studio visits and video chats. Their essays offer poignant, novel, and sometimes amusing interpretations of the new work on view. Seeding relationships of mutual creative exchange is a delightful outcome of this project—another gesture to build on.

On Courtney M. Leonard: Meeting Water
by Heid E. Erdrich in Build on this Gesture Exhibition Catalog

“How can water and light be made of earth and fire? I asked this of myself when I first saw Courtney M. Leonard’s ceramic depictions of whale teeth, fish traps, and her thumb-sized clay pendants embellished with historical images. I soon learned Leonard’s careful combination of the elements works to tell a story that only such a balance of all elements can tell.

Leonard’s art is bound to a life and culture that came into being surrounded by water, the Shinnecock homelands, in what is now known as Long Island, NY. In her work I sense a story that arises from water worlds and the threats to them all—threats both to the water worlds and to the Shinnecock people alike. Her shapes speak of water creatures and the work humans have done at sea or on a river—fishing, whaling, gathering shells for tools and art, and more—work we forget forged an extraordinarily successful economy for millennia. That work went on so long without threatening the water and its life because Indigenous people strive to understand their relationship to the creatures they depend upon. Leonard’s work continues the careful building of the relationship to water that has served Shinnecock people so long.

Several years ago, Leonard and I were at a convening with other fellowship awardees selected by the Native Arts and Culture Foundation. She gave a brief and insightful presentation on her art and shared the complex and deeply thoughtful process she engaged in before creating—a process of learning not only about place, butfromplace. In the years since, I visited Leonard’s installation,BREACH: LOGBOOK 20 | NEBULOUS

— Heid E. Erdrich

Acknowledging oceans as a critical space of globalization BREACH re-contextualizes in material forms the memories and lived experiences of communities and their relationships with water through an annual visual logbook. BREACH: LOGBOOK 22 | BOUND, creates an invitation to contemplate water as a mode of transportation in reflection of its historical ties to the cultural landscapes of Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, as well as a threatened resource through an account of the Connecticut River as it stretches and opens to the Long Island Sound. From fresh water to salt water, what are our relationships to upstream and downstream systems?  What does it mean to be bound for a destination and also bound to a place? What responsibilities do we have to the cultural landscape that sustains us?

Courtney M. Leonard: Intermodal

Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College, Claremont, CA
January 22 – May 19, 2019

In Courtney M. Leonard: Intermodal, a new installation for the Pomona College Museum of Art, Leonard continues to explore connections to and intimate histories of the aquatic environment. Intermodal (BREACH: Logbook 19) is the most recent installment of her multi-year project BREACH. Here she invites us to contemplate water as a mode of transportation, the source of food, as well as a threatened resource. In this installation, Leonard combines her work with a traditional burden basket from the College’s permanent collection and early twentieth-century photographs of indigenous life and work in this area. While identifying the connection between basketry and women’s labor and referencing traditional aquaculture techniques, Leonard’s work is adamant that we acknowledge the oceans as a critical space of globalization. This nuanced web of past and present is a continuation of BREACH, which Leonard describes as “an exploration of historical ties to water and whale, imposed law, and a current relationship of material sustainability.” In BREACH Leonard conducts a conceptual breakdown of the language, images, and cultural associations surrounding the notion of BREACH through installations, and ceramic, sculpture and video works. Her process is based in practices of documentation and collection and informed by her ongoing dialogues with cultural communities for whom the natural world incorporates land and water. BREACH re-contextualizes in material forms the memories and lived experiences of communities and their relationships with water.

Courtney M. Leonard "Abundance (Blue)", 2015, ceramic. Gift of Dr. Loren G. Lipson, T2017-72-2, steel base, ~19 x 20 x 6". Image Courtesy of the Autry Museum.

GROUNDED: Contemporary Ceramics, Gifts of Dr. Loren G. Lipson

Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, CA
Semi-permanent Display

Now on View
Irene Helen Jones Parks Gallery of Art

About the Special Installation

Forged from the land itself, contemporary ceramics reflect an intimate working relationship with the environment and centuries’ worth of artistic tradition. On display in the Parks Gallery as well as the Duttenhaver Case in the Autry’s lobby, GROUNDED: Contemporary Ceramics, Gifts of Dr. Loren G. Lipson will feature major examples of contemporary Native ceramics by Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo), Richard Zane Smith (Wyandotte), Wallace Nez (Navajo), and Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock).




Scrimshaw Takes Over the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Summer Exhibitions

The Wider World & Scrimshaw and Shinnecock artist Courtney M. Leonard’s BREACH: Logbook 24 | SCRIMSHAW explore sites of encounter and exchange across the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

RECORDING | Online Artist Talk: Courtney M. Leonard & Judy Chartrand

Watch an online artist talk with Courtney M. Leonard and Judy Chartrand from the 2023 International Ceramic Art Fair, hosted by the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Ontario.


COURTNEY M. LEONARD on view in New York & Massachusetts Courtney Leonard, "BREACH: Logbook 24 | TRANSCENDENCE", 2024, Installation at Friedman Benda, New York, NY, Courtesy of Friedman Benda and...

Courtney M. Leonard featured on NewsdayTV

VIDEO: Shinnecock artist Courtney Leonard showcases work at Heckscher Museum of Art Reported by Macy EgelandCredit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara June 2023 Watch the Interview Here "Courtney Leonard is the local...


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