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American ceramics

Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection / Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Beyond Craft Decorative Arts exhibition Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection / Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
February 23 - May 26, 2014

In February, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will present the first major exhibition of the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, a remarkable group of 170 artworks—ceramics, fiber work, furniture, glass, jewelry and works on paper—acquired by the Museum in 2010. Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection will showcase 85 objects by 50 artists—including Olga de Amaral, Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, Sam Maloof, Richard Marquis, Albert Paley, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos and Toshiko Takaezu—and highlight important studio objects made from the mid–1960s to the 2000s with a focus on the 1960s–80s, the collection’s great strength.

“Lee and Mel Eagle were adventurous collectors at a time when the boundaries between high art and studio craft were challenged by cognoscenti and prescient dealers; the result is a distinctive collection that reflects the technical innovations and shifting tastes of the last half century,” said Museum director, Gary Tinterow.

“Since the Museum acquired the collection in 2010, many of the works have been featured in permanent collection presentations, providing glimpses into its riches,” said Cindi Strauss, curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design. “Now, for the first time, the Museum will present the collection and visitors can experience the power of these individual objects while appreciating the Eagles’ vision as collectors.”

Leatrice and Melvin Eagle began by collecting works of clay in 1960 and the medium remains at the heart of their collection to this day. Lee’s early training as a ceramist led to a lifetime devotion to clay, a passion that Mel has shared with her over the years. As the couple became sophisticated observers of the field and their preferences took shape, they successfully assembled a museum-quality collection of ceramics, fiber art, furniture, jewelry and prints, paintings and drawings. Their passion grew beyond living with objects to encompass a deep respect for art and artists, as well as a lifelong commitment to promoting and supporting their work through institutional and personal involvement.

Beginning with the 1973 establishment of Eagle Ceramics—a business that provided the resources to make and teach ceramics—the Eagles immersed themselves in the art community and began forming relationships with many prominent artists. From 1979 to 1983, Montgomery College, Eagle Ceramics and the American Hand Gallery in Washington, D.C., collaborated to present of a series of workshops, lectures and exhibitions called “Making It in Clay.” These events enabled the Eagles to meet prominent artists and the couple started collecting their works in depth. Ralph Bacerra, Don Reitz, Adrian Saxe and Michael Cardew have remained touchstones for the Eagles and lasting friendships with the artists resulted from these initial meetings. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Eagles were inspired to acquire collection subsets in jewelry, fiber and furniture and expand their significant holdings in West Coast ceramics, particularly those made in the 1960s and 1970s during the heyday of the Funk movement.

The Museum’s embrace of craft as an art form led to the Eagles’ choice of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as the new home for their collection in 2010. Since that time, the Eagle Collection has been a great asset to the permanent collection, enhancing its strengths in ceramics, glass and jewelry, and filling major gaps in fiber and furniture.

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  • Best Kept Secret: The Scripps College Ceramic Collection / American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, California

    Best Kept Secret: The Scripps College Ceramic Collection, American Museum of Ceramic Art

    Best Kept Secret: The Scripps College Ceramic Collection / American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, California
    January 11 - March 30, 2014

    The American Museum of Ceramic Art is honored to present Best Kept Secret: The Scripps College Ceramic Collection, an exhibition organized by The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College. Curated by Kirk Delman, Collections Manager and Registrar, the exhibition will feature work from the Scripps College Ceramic Collection. The show will provide viewers insights into the contributions of individual donors and an opportunity to assess the RCWG’s achievements as a collecting institution for more than six decades.

    During the mid-1950s the ceramics department at Otis Art Institute (then Los Angeles County Art Institute) was a place of artistic vitality and innovative energy. At Otis, Peter Voulkos led a “revolution in clay” by questioning the tradition that ceramic forms must be utilitarian and by creating instead nonfunctional, sculptural works that gave the medium a new freedom of expression. Voulkos and other notable artists maintained the momentum of this philosophy in Northern California at U.C. Berkeley.

    The Scripps Collection is also remarkable in that much of it came to the college through one donor, Fred Marer, who was a teacher of modest means. Fred Marer was a mathematics professor at Los Angeles City College, and never had substantial resources, but amassed his collection slowly through actual contact with the artists themselves. Because his budget was limited, he most often bought works directly from the artists. Fred began collecting in the early 1940s, first acquiring a piece by one of the leading ceramists in Southern California, Laura Andreson. This purchase piqued his interest in clay and encouraged him to investigate further.

    It was due to the influence of renowned ceramist Paul Soldner, who came to Scripps after graduating from Otis and built the Scripps ceramic program into a major center of study. Soldner’s leadership of the Scripps program along with the Scripps Ceramic Annual (celebrated its 70th ceramic annual exhibition in January, 2014), were the prime reasons Marer decided to make this generous gift to the college.

    This exhibition of more than one hundred and eighty objects will include works from the Otis group as well as highlighting many others, including, Laura Andreson, Robert Arneson, Hans Coper, Phil Cornelius, Shoji Hamada, Jun Kaneko, John Mason, and Jim Melchert.

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  • Reflecting on Erik Gronborg / Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland

    Reflecting on Erik Gronborg exhibition Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland

    Reflecting on Erik Gronborg / Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, OR, USA
    August 07, 2012 – February 16, 2013

    Selections and Installation by Jeffry Mitchell
    Curated by Jeffry Mitchell and Namita Gupta Wiggers

    Erik Gronborg employs archetypes of functional ceramic traditions as conceptual vehicles to explore contemporary culture. Combining a 1,000-year-old-continuum of ceramic history with silk-screening, comics, china paint, and commercial glazes, Gronborg’s provocative “crafty” and non-precious approach is a precursor to the “sloppy craft” that is as challenging today as it was in the late 1960s. Working with Seattle-based artist Jeffry Mitchell, selections of Gronborg’s work will be drawn from local public and private collections. Through dialogue and conversation throughout the process with Namita Gupta Wiggers, and an installation designed by Mitchell, the exhibition will explore Gronborg’s use of craft as a tool for social commentary and political satire, and how the work relates to Mitchell’s own explorations of ceramics as a contemporary medium.

    Location: Collection Gallery

    Opening August 7, 2012 and running through February 16, 2013, this exhibition is part of a series of ongoing explorations in which the Museum invites fresh perspectives on the collection and archive by partnering with artists, creative people, and designers to create public exhibitions. Director and Chief Curator Namita Gupta Wiggers invited ceramic artist Jeffry Mitchell to make selections of Gronborg’s work as a way of fostering a dialogue between the work of these two artists of different generations and as a way of creating conversation around Gronborg’s work.

    The Museum is recording conversations between Wiggers and Mitchell about Mitchell’s selections and groupings of the senior artist’s work. These conversations center on the use of craft as a tool for social commentary and political satire, and how Gronborg’s work relates to Mitchell’s own explorations of ceramics as a contemporary sculptural medium. Reflecting on Erik Gronborg, co-curated by Mitchell and Wiggers, features work from the Museum’s collection and from private collections in Portland. The more than 85 works by Gronborg include ceramic, wood, and miniature bronze sculptures.

    Erik Gronborg, who moved to the United States from Denmark in 1959, almost immediately began making what he considers functional ceramic works that explore contemporary culture. Combining the 1,000-year-old-continuum of ceramic history with silk-screening, comics, china paint, and commercial glazes, Gronborg’s provocative “crafty” and non-precious approach is a precursor to the “sloppy craft” that is as challenging today as it was in the late 1960s. Gronborg, whose last kiln firing was in 1996, won The City of Paris Award at The Paris Bienale in 1963. Gronborg has spent most of his life as an artist and educator at various institutions in California and also taught at Reed College from 1965-69.

    A retrospective of Mitchell’s work, Like a Valentine: The Art of Jeffry Mitchell, opens at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle in October 2012. Mitchell was awarded a Joan Mitchell Grant in 2009 and was a finalist for the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards at the Portland Art Museum in 2008. His work was included in the ICA’s 2009 exhibition, Dirt on Delight: Impulses that Form Clay. Mitchell is represented by Ambach & Rice in Los Angeles.

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  • Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah: The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen / McKissick Museum

    Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah: The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen exhibition / McKissick Museum

    Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah: The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen / University of South Carolina McKissick Museum, Columbia, SC, USA
    May 26 – July 27, 2012

    Some of the most imaginative and beautiful ceramics of the 20th century will be on display in an exhibition of Walter B. Stephen’s pottery May 26 – July 27 at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum.

    Titled “Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah: The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen,” the exhibition will feature 76 rare examples of Stephen’s works, from the first pots that he fired near Nonconnah Creek in Tennessee to crystalline vessels produced at Pisgah Forest near Asheville.

    Stephen, born in 1876 in Clinton, Iowa, was heavily influenced by his mother, but he  soon began exploring and developing his own creative talents. In 1904, he established the Nonconnah Pottery in Tennessee, where he and his mother produced “paste on paste” cameo wares similar to Wedgwood’s Jasperwares. In 1913, he moved to the Asheville area, where he produced a variety of pottery until his death in1961.

    The early Nonconnah pieces are dominated by matte-green glazes with floral designs. The later works made at the Pisgah Forest Pottery range from small, brightly glazed teapots and cups to monumental baptismal fonts. Cameo depictions of the American West include covered wagons, Indians hunting Buffalo and portraits of Bill Cody. Stephen also used imagery of the South such as mountain cabins, fiddlers and Gen. Robert E. Lee. His forms and glazes, particularly the crystalline glaze, were inspired by Asian ceramics.

    Two events are planned in connection with the exhibition:

    On June 21, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. the museum will host a reception, a gallery talk and a book signing featuring Rodney Leftwich, author of “Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah: The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen.”

    From 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday, June 22, McKissick will host a symposium, “The Art of Collecting Southern Pottery.”  Leftwich, Karen Swager of Brunk Auctions, crystalline potter Frank Neef, Winton Eugene and Rosa Eugene of Pottery by Eugene, and Barbara S. Perry, who writes about  American ceramics, will participate.

    The symposium is $40 for museum members and $50 for non-members.

    Museum Hours: Monday-Friday: 8:30 am - 5 pm. Saturday: 11 am - 3 pm. Closed Sundays and all University and State holidays.
    Open to the public free of charge.

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