Sunday, April 18, 2010

Panagiotis Harry Voulkopoulos, better known as Peter Voulkos, was born on January 29, 1924 in Bozeman, Montana. He was the third child of five born to his Greek immigrant parents. Just after graduating from Gallatin County High School, he was drafted into the United States Army, where he served for three years. Eight years after leaving the army, he married Margaret Cone. Peter’s groundbreaking works are best known for their unique visual weight and somewhat bizarre appearances. Seen in this picture with John Balistreri, Voulkos was fond of hammering, smashing, and gouging large holes in his pieces, and they clearly convey his passion and energy. He created a large number of plates, ice buckets, tea bowls, prints, paintings, and bronzes, most of which are non-conventional pieces. His King’s Chamber is a perfect example of this, though most of his stacks shared many common elements with this one. While most of his later work is wood-fired, his earlier projects were glazed, painted, and even cast in bronze.

It is likely that his heritage had a great impact on his creative mind, as much of his work is reminiscent of traditional Greek pottery. He studied painting and ceramics at Montana State University and earned an MFA from the California College of the Arts. He then founded the ceramics department at Otis College of Art and Design, then did the same at the University of California, Berkeley, where he proceeded to teach from 1959-85. He and Rudy Autio became the Archie Bray Foundation’s first resident artists. Receiving an astonishing number of awards and medals in his life, Peter was a highly decorated man. Most of Peter’s artwork is more sculptural than functional. Even with simple things like plates he defied conventional expectations by creating something that you almost couldn’t use even if you tried.

On February 16, 2002 he died of a heart attack after demonstrating his skill to a live audience during a college ceramics workshop. His artwork can be found in museums worldwide, including the National Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and the Kyoto National Museum of Modern art, to name just a few.

Check out these links for more information on Peter Voulkos!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Bernard Palissy was believed to be born around 1509, either at Saintes or Agen in France. He is thought to be a potter, craftsmen and writter. Unfortunately he died nearly eighty years of age in Bastille in 1589. His father was a glass-painter and so he was very well trained by him. When he was first shown a white enameled cup, which caused him surprise and excitement, he decided to spend his life “to use his own expressive phrase, like a man who gropes in the dark, in order to discover the secrets of manufacture”.
Bernard Palissy was determined to imitate Chinese porcelain. Even though he failed with Chinese porcelain, he succeeded in making kinds of peasant pottery decorated with naturalistic colored applied reliefs with glazes and enamels. While searching some of his work, I was really impressed on how his work contains so much mythological history.
Bernard Palissy is known for his “rustic” earth ware, covered with colored lead glazes.
Also he almost never used the potters wheel. Few of his most characteristic productions were large plates,ewers, oval dishes and vases, which he would usually apply realistic figures of fish, plants, shells, reptiles and other objects. The colors he used to choose for his pieces were various shades of blue from indigo to ultramarine, greens, several tints of browns and greys and some yellow.
Some of Palissys best ware collections are in the museums of the Louvre, the hotel Cluny, and Sevres and also in England in the Albert Museum.
In 1565 he was appointed as “inventor of rustic pottery to the king and the queen mother”.
His work passed through many phases. After his “rustic figurines”, he made multiple dishes and plaques and also reproductions of the pewter dishes of Francois Briot and many other metalworkers of that period. Palissy was one of the first Europeans to articulate the correct theory of fossils and his pieces and ideas of spring and underground waters were thought to be far in advance of the general knowledge of his time.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

George Ohr

George E. Ohr (1857-1918) was an American Ceramist who was also know by his self made name, “ Mad Potter of Biloxi”. He is considered an iconic figure of the American Abstract Expressionist movement. During his lifetime he produced over 10,000 pots, but was forced to rebuild his life after his pottery studio burnt down in Mississippi in 1893. Much of his inspiration came from the fire where he then produced some of the most innovative pieces of his career. His use of organic shapes, lines, brilliantly colored glazes and wheel techniques are fantastic and can be seen in the Orh-O'Keefe Museum of Art dedicated to his work.


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George Ohr manipulated finely potted vessels by twisting, bending, folding, and crimping. He experimented with both structural form and glazes, and his idiosyncratic works, each one a kind of nonrepresentational sculpture, presaged abstraction by several decades. One example is of this slumped footed vase with a pocked blue glaze. Its off balance vertical shape gives it an unexpected gestural quality. The curvy designs of each pot establishes a modern, exotic form. His work was unpopular during his life because it was incredibly advanced for his time.

An Ohr pot

Ohrs eccentric persona and imaginative aesthetics were condemned throughout his life, but he remained diligent in continuing the creative process. It wasn’t until well after his death in the 1960’s where his work became rediscovered and praised for its modern qualities. His work displayed in the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art experienced the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina where portions of the building were destroyed. This event draws a parallel to the disaster Ohr’s studio had experienced in the fire of 1893. The ceramics that George Ohr had created post-catastrophe were his most masterful and spirited, therefore the theme of triumph resonates throughout displays of his work. His pottery is currently extremely valuable because he was considered a pioneer of modern ceramics; a small pot can sell in the six-figure range. There are many knock off George Ohr pieces that are made to try and fool buyers, but the few who fanatically collect know the signature traits of the originals.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kristen Kieffer

Kristen Kieffer is a magnificent ceramicist who aligns her work with the detail, sophistication, and beauty of a bygone era. She explores textures and patterns through her pieces and is able to create soft, intricate pieces.

Kristen Kieffer grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. As a little girl she enjoyed going to Louisville Stoneware on school field trips, and visiting the Louisville Art Museum with her parents. When she was in high school she moved to Rockville, Massachusetts where she had access to the Smithsonian’s and began her pursuit of ceramics. In 1993 Kristen received her Associates degree in Studio Ceramics from Montgomery College in 1993. Later in 1995 she recieved her Bachelor in Fine Arts from the NYSCC at Alfred University.

After pursuing ceramics from the educational perspective Kristen moved to Detroit where she got her hands dirty as an Intern for the Greenfield Village Pottery at the Henry Ford Museum. There Kristen threw pots in front of visitors for fourteen months. From there, Kristen took up Artist-In-Residence positions at John Glick’s Plum Tree Pottery in Michigan and at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

In1998 Kristen returned to school as a graduate student at the Ohio University. In 2001 she received her MFA .

Kristen's primary infludences in her work come from clothing and metal working. She like the idea of soft materials, such as fabric, creating hard ridged lines as in a corset or Elizabethan dress. Conversely how hard material, such silver or brass, yield soft forms. This influence is clearly illustrated in this corset vase. Kristen takes the clay and transforms it into fabric using bold, but soft lines, and detailed decorations all over the corset.
A common theme with Kristen’s work is her use of patterns and stamps. Here are a set of stamped bowls.
Pretty much all of Kristen’s work is soda fired, which really emphasizes her form with its addition of shadows.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chris Gustin

Chris Gustin was born in Chicago in 1952 and went to the University of California studying biology and sociology. Because of his family business in working on several commercial ceramic manufacturing companies, he always had an interest in clay and realized that he wanted to continue to work in ceramics. In 1970, he quit school and became the factory foreman and manager at Wildwood ceramics. It wasn’t until 1972 that he went on to attend Kansas Art Institute and got his BFA in ceramics in 1975. Two years later he was invited to be an assistant professor in ceramics in Boston University and later became associate professor at the University of Massachusetts. He retired 1999 from teaching to fully devote himself to his studio work and tile production company “Gustin Ceramics Tile Production.”

His work is exhibited at several museums, including the Collection of the Currier Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire and the Collection of the Fuller Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts.

With his work, he aspires to create work that connect to the human figure and the personal touch of its maker; creating interesting asymmetrical and almost organic vessel. His work is meant to be explored, both with the eye and through touch that changes in different perspectives. He works with many different forms, including platters, teapots and vases. His platters are decorated with different abstract forms, some in which appear to lift up from the surface. His teapots and vases create an interesting form of abstractness, almost alluding to the collision of many different parts of vessels from throughout time. “The enormous ceramic vessels are beautiful and imposing,” said Kaizaad Kotwal, or the Columbus Dispatch. “Their scale, lyrical curves and detailed patinas are unique.” Gustin’s work is rather grand, sometimes measuring to 50 inches in width. Glen R. Brown describes his works “reflect an abstract logic of accretion that is only grasped by the viewer through a ‘rational’ assessment of the vessels’ structural properties. The balance between emotion and logic, gut reaction and reasoned response.” To see more of his work, visit his website here: and a link to Glen R. Brown’s article:

Elisa Helland-Hansen

Elisa Helland-Hanson was born in 1950 in New York but now resides in Bergen, Norway. Elisa began school at the Trondheim school of art which she attended for two years and then continued her education at the National College of Art and Design in Bergen, Norway and graduated from the ceramics department. She taught at HDK, Gothenburg University in Sweden and has visited Universities, including CU, as a visiting artist where she talked and has done workshops and has been a guest lecturer all over the world. Elisa works with ceramics and her focus for her work is domestic use and how they relationship between their function and form, color and surface, and her biggest challenge still is the works social and cultural context.

Elisa had her first of wood firing during a kiln building course at the National College of Art and Design. Her ceramic work is wood fired which she built in her studio after graduating and establishing her own studio. Her decision to work with wood firing was due to the success of the different results. With wood firing the results vary because the ash and different burning technique can add a different texture and color to the glazes. Most of her work is thrown on the wheel and altered after and on her pouring vessels and cups most of her handles are pulled strait from the body of work. When decorating her pots she uses many different techniques such as wax resist, slip and paper stencil, and over glazing. Her body of work has been many different exhibitions all over Europe with a few in the USA.

All of her work is done in a stoneware or porcelain and is meant to be strong and durable so that the pieces can be functional and used in everyday activities. However, her use of the different decorating techniques that she uses on her work makes the aesthetic view of the domestic pieces seem much more delicate and valuable. She describes her work in “Song From My Pot” where each line describes that her work should be used, looked at, enjoyed, filled, touched, and more. Each pot that she makes definitely follows this and each one has a different look and feel and is enjoyable to look at.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bernard Leach

Bernard Leach was born in 1887 in Hong Kong and went to the Slade School of Art in London, where he studied under Henry Tonks. However, he didn’t discover pottery until he attended a raku tea part in Tokyo, where guests were asked to decorate already fired raku pieces. It was here that Leach discovered his passion. (Prior to this tea party, Leach had studied etching and considered himself an etching artist). It was in Japan that he encountered a group of young Japanese art enthusiasts, called Shirakaba. Through this group, he was able to broaden his artistic horizons and shortly after, Leach began his ceramics career under the direction of Shigekichi Urano.

Leach’s first claim to fame was a book he published in 1940 called “A Potter’s Book”. This book is still considered a must read for any aspiring potter. He was an avid instructor of ceramics, believing anyone could learn to throw on the wheel. While schooling in Japan, became friends with another young potter named Shoji Hamada whom with he set up Leach Pottery at St. Ives, Cornwall in 1920. At this studio, he produced the pottery for which he became famous. This work consisted mainly of modest, functional forms with clean slip designs. Often the subjects of his designs are simplified or abstracted animal forms. This minimalist theme in his work is most likely pulled from his ceramic training in Japan, as well as his British heritage. Leach often saw his art as a conveyor between these two desperately different cultures.

The hand-painting aesthetic of Leach's slip designs allow the viewer to follow the artist's hand. One is able to physically see where the weight of the brush was heavy, and where it was lifted off. Despite this handmade quality, the designs are very crisp and clean, adding a professional and finished quality to Leach's work. My personal favorite piece by Leach is his 'Slipware Plate' (made around 1950), which features a an abstracted rabbit form. The contrast between the swooping and flowing quality of the rabbit's feet and ears really contrast with the rigid and geometrical crosshatched decoration around the outer ring of the plate. Also, this piece is a perfect example of Leach bridging British and Japanese aspects into his work. The outer rim and signed name are very reminiscent of Thomas Toft's (a famous English potter) style, while the rabbit form is resemblant of Japanese design.

Unfortunately, due to loss of sight, Leach had to stop producing work in 1972. However, he continued to publish writings about ceramics, even after he’d lost his eyesight. In 1977, the Victoria and Albert museum in London hosted a exhibition of his retrospective work. Bernard Leach died in 1979.