Half of the shelves in our home are filled with books, and the other half is completely filled with pottery. These forms made of clay that were originally intended for a more utilitarian purpose have now found themselves neatly placed around the mantle and any open shelving available in our home. This had me thinking, how did this once practical craft transition into an art form? Upon more research, I found that there was a lengthy dialogue on pottery as an art form and where that line is drawn.
Collection of George Roby pottery
Pottery can be traced back to ancient China where ceramics were essential to everyday life. The craft of making ceramics eventually found its way to Britain where the emergence of art pottery came in the early 20th century. Before the idea of artisan pottery came around, the general public viewed pottery as a craft for creating dishware and various types of pots. However, it is widely regarded that Bernard Leach, a Hong Kong born potter that made his way to England as a boy, started the studio pottery movement in Britain. Britain was one of the first countries where artisan pottery emerged, the United States quickly followed suit, adopting many of the approaches from Britain and Japan.
Painted Pottery funerary urn, Neolithic Banshan phase, c. 3000 BC, from Yangshao, Henan province, China
Vase by Bernard Leach
America didn’t see a huge surge of studio pottery until the Mid Century when the Organic Modernist Movement came around. Companies like Architectural Pottery and Hans Sumpf employed some of the leading innovators such as Stan Bitters, David Cressey, and LaGardo Tackett to name a few. Their pottery showcased clean lines, sculptural, and architectural elements that had not been seen before. After the Mid Century, studio pottery became extremely popular. Artists that worked in different mediums began to dabble in ceramics, and that is why today we can find so many one-of-a-kind studio pottery pieces that were signed by artists with no other notable work.
Architectural Pottery in the 1950s
Ceramicists have often been overshadowed by the achievements of studio makers in furniture or even in glass art. The likes of George Nakashima, Wendell Castle, and Dale Chihuly garnered immense praise for their work, while ceramicists were often times left in the dark. However, once ceramicists began to work in a more artistic sphere, they began to see more of a surge in popularity. The appeal in studio made pottery lies in the diversity of the medium. Clay can be molded into various sculptural shapes and still maintain its utilitarian purpose. For example, a studio made bowl can be sculptural in form and made to look like an art piece, but still be used with its original function in mind.
Today, studio pottery is still very much a commodity. Studio crafts have made a resurgence in the last few years, and learning to make ceramics is now more accessible than it’s ever been. In recent years, we’ve seen artists whose works were relatively unknown, suddenly become highly in demand. Claude Conover is a prime example of a studio ceramicist whose work has seen an immense surge in popularity and is now quite sought after, often fetching thousands of dollars in auction.
Ceramic Vessels by Claude Conover
I believe that studio pottery isn’t going to slow down anytime soon and the market for studio made pottery is bigger than it’s ever been. With so many different styles and different artists to choose from it becomes difficult to navigate the types of pottery that catches your eye. Luckily, we have some incredible ceramics in our inventory for you to browse through. The majority of our pottery was handcrafted by George Roby, a contemporary of fellow Cleveland based artist, Claude Conover. The pottery that we have available comes directly from the personal collection of the artist himself. You can see what we have available here!