Metamorphosis pp 205-217 | Cite as

The Genesis of Clay Figurative Sculpture in California, 1955–1974: Potter and Pot, an Intersubjective Encounter in the Work of Peter Voulkos

  • Catherine Schear
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 81)


This study brings together the work of three artists participating in the sculptural clay movement. Each artist elevated vessel-related pottery to a status equal to traditional painting and sculpture, but each one did so in a very different manner. Peter Voulkos (b. 1924–2002) — the main proponent of the clay culture — not only challenged the traditional perception that pottery was utilitarian, but he also gave the medium of clay, previously regarded as restricted to the realm of craft, a working vocabulary for use in freestanding sculpture. When Voulkos moved to Northern California in 1959, he influenced other potters. Robert Arneson (b. 1930–1992) was not committed to the constituent elements of clay but was interested in exploring the tactile and aural effects of clay sculpture. Stephen De Staebler (b. 1933), like Voulkos, experimented with clay as a distinct medium; however his work was oriented toward turning horizontal forms into vertical ones.


Declarative Memory Authorial Voice Nondeclarative Memory Artistic Strategy Traditional Painting 
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  1. 1.
    Shoji Hamada was one of the pioneer artist-potters in modern Japan and a core member of the Mingei (Japanese folkcraft) movement to which I shall refer later in the text. See Y. Kikuchi, “Hybridity and the Oriental Orientation of Mingei Theory,” Journal of Design History, vol. 10, no. 4, 1997, pp. 343–354.Google Scholar
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    Voulkos attracted the following students: Billy Al Bengsten (b. 1934), Michael Frimkess (b. 1937), Ken Price (b. 1935), Jerry Rothman (b. 1933), and Henry Takemoto (b. 1933). In contradistinction to what is thought, it was not an all-male enclave. In addition to Kayla Selzer and Martha Longenecker, there were two full-time female students: Janice Roosevelt and Carol Radcliffe. Mary Davis MacNaughton, “Innovation in Clay: The Otis Era 1954–1960,” in Revolution in Clay. The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics (Claremont, CA: Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1994 ), p. 9.Google Scholar
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    Another example of the “quilting bee” style would be the collaborative ceramic experiment set up in the coastal town of Albisola by former members of the COBRA movement in 1954. One of the members, Lucio Fontana, had a show in San Francisco, entitled New Work from Italy (1961) at the Bolles Gallery, 729 Sansome Street. The participants had free rein with the potter’s craft, and began making ceramic sculpture. See Plates 20 and 21. (Fondazione Lucio Fontana Archive, Milan.)Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine Schear
    • 1
  1. 1.BerkeleyUSA

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