When one thinks of important early Alberta potters, the name that usually comes up is Luke Lindoe, and rightly so. Lindoe gave much to the movement in Alberta between his stays in Calgary and Medicine Hat. However, the brief and dynamic arrival of Sibyl Laubental to the north, in Edmonton, in the early 1950s, should give one pause to consider her immense and important contributions as well.
Marie Sibyl (Budde) Laubental was born in Halle, Germany in 1918 just at the end of the First World War to Martin Luther University professor Werner Budde, and his sculptor wife, Grete. Grete Budde was a gifted sculptor and portrait artist at a time when instruction at art academies was typically denied to women. She took private lessons instead and, as a result, produced a great many portraits and scultures in the 1920s and 30s. The Budde family's Jewish heritage put them in tremendous danger with the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and in 1937, Werner was one of 39 lecturers to be removed from the University due to newly instituted racial laws.
Sibyl Budde started her career in ceramics at 18. She first studied as an apprentice around Salerno, Italy from 1935 - 1938 before returning to Germany and being hired as an assistant at the prestigious studio of Danish born modernist potter Jan Bontjes van Beek in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. As the war progressed, and things got much worse, Van Beek's daughter Cato was arrested and executed for her involvement in the "Red Orchestra" resistance. Van Beek himself was also arrested for the crime of sipperhaft - or shared responsibility. Ms. Budde, who had been married to architect Carl Laubental, was forced to spend the remainder of the war in hiding with her husband and young family in the attic of a baker. The van Beek studio was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943.
After the war, with Sibyl spending a couple of years working in a Stuttgart tile factory, the young Laubental family emigrated to Edmonton in the spring of 1952 where her extraordinary talent was recognized almost immediately. She helped teach at the newly formed Edmonton Potter's Guild where she instructed students on the wheel, taught them how to prepare clay and glazes, and how to produce high fire stoneware. These were early days and would likely seem primitive to today's potters but the knowledge base was in its infancy and Ms. Laubental was a major factor in its growth. Her skill on the wheel even caught the attention of Luke Lindoe himself who drove hundreds of kilometres to see her demonstrate. He recalled "(she) taught me what I needed to know about throwing." (Crawford, p.201).
As Ms. Laubental's reputation grew she was invited to teach at more locations including the Banff School and the University of Alberta Extension Department. She gave a great deal of her focus to her students, distracting from her own personal production. As a result her work is now quite scarce and difficult to find. She did manage to send juried pieces off to important exhibitions where she won awards. These included Canadian Ceramics 1955 ($50 prize for a stoneware vase) and 1957 (see below) as well as the 19th Ceramic National in 1957 at Syracuse, New York. This recognition would likely have to be considered the pinnacle of her career.
She also exhibited at;
Sibyl Laubental's work reflects the Bauhaus design ethic we see in other European influenced potters like Marguerite Wildenhain, Jan Grove, and Leonard Osborne. She believed that glaze and decorative motif should not detract from the lines or designs of a piece but rather should enhance it. All the examples of her work pictured in this article illustrate this.
Sadly, Sibyl Laubental's life was cut short by a terminal illness, in 1961, at the age of only 43. She was succeeded in her teaching role by the likes of Walter Dexter and Noboru Kubo. During her brief decade in Canada she influenced and started the careers of a great many Alberta potters, contributing tremendously to the development of the Alberta ceramics movement along with Luke Lindoe.
I've been fortunate enough to find and acquire but one piece of Sibyl Laubental's work - this bowl. It is a fine example and emblematic of her Bauhaus approach. Simply glazed but with incredible depth and feel. It does not distract from the perfectly thrown form. Likely dating to the mid to late 1950s, the bowl is 8 1/4" across and 3 1/2" high.
Ms. Laubental's only solo exhibitions occured after her death in 1962 - one in Winnipeg, the other in Edmonton. Interestingly, her mother, Grete Budde recently had over 90 of her sculptural works recognized at her first solo exhibition - Grete Budde. Works for the University - in 2021 in Halle, Germany.
Sibyl Laubental signed her work simply "SIBYL" on the edge of the foot, as shown in the examples above.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, December 9). Jan Bontjes van beek. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Bontjes_van_Beek
Ausstellung zu Grete Budde: Aus der Vergessenheit Geholt. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://www.campus-halensis.de/artikel/ausstellung-zu-grete-budde-aus-der-vergessenheit-geholt/?cok
Crawford, M. G. (2005). In Studio Ceramics in Canada: 1920-2005 (pp. 201–203). Goose Lane Editions.
Collier, A. (2011). The Modern Eye: Craft and Design in Canada, 1940-1980. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Canadian Guild of Potters. (1955). Canadian ceramics.
Canadian Guild of Potters. (1957). Canadian ceramics.
Studio Pottery Canada
Pottery enthusiast learning about the history of this Canadian art form and curating samples from the best in the field pre-1980.