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This remarkable collection of Ceramics Monthly articles, all written by Elaine Levin, tells the stories of some of the most notable figures of the ceramic art movement in the U.S. Levin relates the struggles and successes of 26 movers and shakers dedicated to unselfishly pushing ceramic art into uncharted territory so others could enjoy and benefit from their efforts. From Binns, Baggs, Robineau and the Wildenhains, through Voulkos and Soldner, the stories in Movers and Shakers in American Ceramics are sure to educate and inspire.

 

Softcover | 136 Pages
Order code CA20D | ISBN 978-1-57498-560-3

 

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Introduction by Elaine Levin

 

In the 1970s, I began teaching a course on American ceramic history at the extension division of the University of California, Los Angeles. I sent a notice concerning this course to Ceramics Monthly. They quickly wrote to me (no email then) suggesting I write a series of articles on those early twentieth century ceramists who laid the foundation for American studio ceramics. The research for those articles, the first four in this handbook, taught me about the dedicated people who created a craft history. After those articles were published, the magazine suggested I continue to write about those others contributing engaging work in ceramics.  This book is a compilation of those articles, a reflection on those responsible for shaping American ceramics over the years.

 

As strange as it may seem today, with the great variety of available information on ceramics, thirty years ago there were very few magazines and books about American ceramics. Yes, technical information was available but very little about how the craft developed. Also, what was published had been written years earlier. Charles Binns, Arthur Baggs, and Adelaide Robineau, ceramists discussed in the first two articles, truly pioneered both the technical and the aesthetic in ceramics. Binns, at Alfred University (New York) and Baggs at the Ohio State University, initiated an academic approach to education—a concept quite apart from the European apprentice system for crafts. Robineau, the first woman to boldly pursue learning to throw on the potter’s wheel (generally discouraged by male throwers), helped transfer some potters from a reliance on factory throwers to establishing their own studios. Glen Lukens, Laura Andreson, Mary and Edwin Scheier, Maija Grotell, and Herbert Sanders continued the concept of educating ceramists in academia, in universities, and in art schools across the country. Grotell also represents the influx of European ceramists coming to America in the late 1930s and ‘40s, when the world was at war.  Along with Grotell, who taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Otto and Gertrud Natzler, Marguerite Wildenhain in California, and Frans Wildenhain in New York, all reinforced a European aesthetic that proclaimed work in clay as a fine art. This group brought attention to the lifestyle of the studio potter (continuing and reinforcing Robineau’s direction) and to the beauty of well-crafted functional ware with exciting surface enrichments. Early on, Otto Natzler viewed the action of the kiln as a tool capable of creating many different results from a single glaze. Frans Wildenhain’s sculptural forms and commissioned murals brought a concern for nature and the environment into ceramics and to his students at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

 

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Each of the mid-century American ceramists also contributed something unique to the field. Andreson introduced using porcelain clays and glazes; Sanders wrote about his experiments with a wide variety of glazes and, especially, modifications within crystalline glazes, providing technical information beyond the basics; the Scheiers were influenced by Mexican and South American ceramics, suggesting a greater world view; Lukens fearlessly saw the beauty in unglazed and heavily grogged clay at a time when the over-all glazed surface was ascendant.

 

Vivika and Otto Heino began teaching and operating a studio on the East Coast, but they were most influential when they moved west. Vivika brought the much needed aesthetics and technology of Alfred University—a continuum of the Binns aesthetic—to the Los Angeles area. When Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner arrived in Los Angeles to work at Otis College of Art and Design, they had the functional ceramics of Lukens, Andreson, and the Heinos to look to and to go beyond. There is little doubt that Voulkos’ and Soldner’s predecessors conferred a readiness on these men, and those they influenced, to proceed into the unknown.

 

In the mid-1950s, Voulkos and Soldner, along with other ceramists in Southern California, opened portals to a world beyond the traditional. Voulkos’ vertical stacks of thrown, coiled, and handbuilt clay gave permission to others to experiment and innovate. Exploring the sixteenth century Japanese firing method, termed raku, led Soldner toward a completely different firing process and low-fired glazes, which a new generation of ceramists would eagerly explore and expand.  When Juan Quezada began giving workshops on low-fire ware, ceramists were more prepared to explore this direction, once again moving beyond the prevailing technology, in this case of high-fired stoneware.

 

In a very short time, the ceramists coming of age in the 1970s and ‘80s understood they had been given permission to seek their personal expressive direction in clay. Lukman Glasgow incorporated Surrealism, humor, and social commentary in the juxtaposition of common yet, seemingly, unrelated objects.  Stephen DeStaebler’s stacked forms combined the concepts of Abstract Expressionism with figurative sculpture. Marilyn Levine turned to the realistic object as a reflection of both Pop Art and Super Realism. Although not written about in this collection, Robert Arneson’s interpretation of Pop Art and the figure were enormously influential.

 

An anomaly because she was not strictly a clay artist, Judy Chicago, nevertheless, brought attention and new concepts to the ancient technique of china painting. The resulting exhibit of her work encouraged new interest in overglaze imagery, especially in combination with other materials for surface enrichment. Ralph Bacerra, Jerry Rothman, and Adrian Saxe also looked to the past for inspiration; Bacerra looked east, to Japanese polychrome colors and patterns. Rothman and Saxe turned to Europe, where Rothman was captivated by the flamboyant tradition of eighteenth century baroque ware, while Saxe reveled in the fussiness of French Sevres porcelains. All three reinterpreted those traditions in a manner that spoke to contemporary American culture and the expression of a Post Modernism aesthetic.

 

Otto Natzler initially explored the kiln as an integral part of ceramic expression. Later, Paul Soldner and Juan Quezada introduced variations on low-fire technology. In two more articles, the kiln, once again, is the subject. Fred Olsen traveled the world to learn about indigenous kilns, returning to write a book on the subject that had a profound influence on this technology and on his own landscape-inspired sculptural ceramics. In workshops around the world, he continues to build structures that connect to the local ambiance and environment, yet still manage to expertly fire wares.  John Roloff, opened the concept of firing to an aesthetic beyond its connection to ware. For Roloff, the kiln becomes the fired object in a ritual that recalls primitive ceremonies worshiping fire and light.

 

Twenty articles record the work of Movers and Shakers, the influential ceramists of the twentieth century. These artists provided the essential technical foundation for an art form that reflects contemporary American social and cultural circumstances. Equal to the challenge of finding an expressive direction and eager to articulate an aesthetic for a relatively new country, these men and women established a ceramic continuum for the next century of ceramists to build upon.

–Elaine M. Levin

   
   

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Contents

  • Charles Binns and Adelaide Robineau
  • Arthur Baggs and Glen Lukens
  • Laura Andreson and Edwin and Mary Scheier
  • Maija Grotell and Herbert Sanders
  • Ralph Bacerra
  • Otto and Vivika Heino
  • Lukman Glasgow
  • Peter Voulkos
  • Paul Soldner
  • Judy Chicago: The Dinner Party
  • Stephen DeStaebler
  • Juan Quezada
  • An Interview with Otto Natzler
  • Frans Wildenhain
  • Marilyn Levine
  • John Roloff
  • Jerry Rothman
  • Adrian Saxe
  • The Legacy of Marguerite Wildenhain
  • Have Kiln Design, Will Travel