Bernard Leach (1887–1979) was a British potter known for revolutionizing studio pottery and the profile of ceramic arts in Britain and the United States. His writing, teaching, and workhad a global impact.
Leach was born in Hong Kong and traveled extensively throughout Asia in his youth. In 1908, he moved to Japan with his first wife, Muriel, where he worked as an artist and teacher. He began to study ceramics after attending a raku pottery party and becoming enamored with the firing process. He spent the next several years developing his style and aesthetic philosophies. In 1919, he met potter Shoji Hamada, and the two became lifelong friends and collaborators. Leach and Hamada, along with the artist Soetsu Yanagi, were the three central figures in the Mingei (Folk Craft) movement. The Mingei approach emphasized the role of traditional techniques and functional necessity in the creative process. Mingei artists sought to imbue their work with timeless beauty, creating pottery which was both utilitarian and elegant.
In 1920, Leach was offered a capital loan by the philanthropist Francis Horne to establish a studio with Hamada in St. Ives, Cornwall, England. Leach Pottery was born, with Leach and Hamada initially producing original stoneware pieces. Their ethos merged Eastern and Western ceramic traditions. Leach Pottery would continue as a modest operation, often plagued by financial difficulty, until the end of the second World War. At that time, Leach’s son David became a partner and implemented a series of successful changes to the business. In 1946, the first set of Leach Standard Ware was released, which would grow to great success. Leach Standard Ware is still hand-made in St. Ives today.
Leach’s approach synthesized functionality, craftsmanship, and artistic expression. He was a proponent of the “Leach Standard:” a level of technical excellence that apprenticing craftsmen were required to meet before their work could be sold under the Leach Pottery name. Throughout his career, Leach taught and mentored numerous potters, contributing to the spread of his ideas and the studio pottery movement globally. He also frequently lectured on his ideas internationally. He believed in the importance of a strong connection between the maker, the material, and the process of creation. His teaching emphasized the value of handmade objects in a rapidly industrializing world. Leach and Hamada are widely regarded as some of the most influential craftsmen of the twentieth century. They both wrote extensively on pottery, aesthetics, and art theory. Leach’s books, including “A Potter’s Book” (1940), are still considered essential reading for aspiring potters.
Header image: Bernard Leach (left) and Shoji Hamada discussing a pot.
Maija Grotell was an innovative Finnish-American ceramicist and educator who made important contributions to the development of pottery as a contemporary art form. Born in Helsinki, Finland, Grotell’s passion for ceramics led her to immigrate to the United States in 1927. After settling in New York City, she displayed an early interest in pioneering novel techniques in glaze formulation. Grotell’s style combined Scandinavian influences with modernist principles, resulting in elegant, functional pieces. Her early work often employed art deco motifs. As her career progressed, she gravitated away from overpainted surfaces and towards dynamic textures resulting from her unique glazing techniques themselves. She was an accomplished ceramics teacher, having served as the head of the ceramics department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1938 – 1966. Her work is prized by institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Header image: Maija Grotell, 1947, photography by Harvey Croze. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.
Jason Trebs is a potter making functional, handmade stoneware for everyday use. Born in northern Minnesota, Trebs studied ceramics under Robert Briscoe at Bemidji State University in Harris, MN. He is thus a third generation descendent in the tradition of Bernard Leach, who valued elegant simplicity and functionality in pottery. Trebs describes himself as being drawn to simple forms and understated, matte glazes. Trebs values resourcefulness: he built his current kiln from scratch, using recycled materials from previous kilns that he also built.
Trebs has been a full-time potter since 2004. In 2010, he began participating annually in the St. Croix Pottery Tour, founded by Briscoe. His work is included in the Rosenfeld Collection and the Northern Clay Center. He has been featured in group exhibitions at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Minnesota Museum of American Art. He currently resides in Schroeder, MN.
Frances Senska is a highly influential ceramic artist who worked primarily in the midwestern United States. Her accomplishments as an educator and artist at the University of Montana and beyond have led her to be frequently dubbed “the grandmother of Montana pottery.” Senska embraced the values of simplicity and functionality which were adopted by her contemporaries. She directly influenced the work of countless students throughout her career, including renowned American potters Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos.
Senska was born in 1914 in the coastal town of Batanga, Cameroon – then the German colony of Kamerun. Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries. Senska’s father was a doctor and craftsman who paid his way through medical school by making cabinets and working as a construction foreman. He encouraged his daughter’s interest in craftsmanship by teaching her how to use his woodworking tools. The family eventually returned to the United States, settling in Iowa before Senska entered high school. She received her B.A. and M.A. in fine arts from the University of Iowa in 1935 and 1939 respectively.
After completing her M.A., Senska taught art at Grinnell college until her position was dissolved during World War II. She then joined the Navy. While stationed in San Francisco, she took a pottery class from Edith Heath at the California Labor School. This sparked Senska’s lifelong passion for clay. After leaving the Navy, she continued taking ceramics classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the Chicago School of Design.
The development of Senska’s style was influenced by a variety of sources. She was taught by Marguerite Wildenhain at the San Francisco Art Institute, an artist associated with the Bauhaus despite rejecting its rigid formalism. Senska believed in incorporating influences from throughout her life into her work, including early exposure to craft in Cameroon, academic education, and the ethos of functionality popularized by Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach. Senska’s interest in clay was partially due to its universality as a medium. She was thus concerned with preserving the natural aesthetic and tactile qualities of clay in her work. She typically used earth-toned glazes, and her painted motifs often reflected her desire to represent the terrestrial origins of her materials.
Senska’s legacy as an educator was crucial to the development of arts education at the university level. She rejected the structure of generalized fine arts education which had been available to her as a student, founding the ceramics department at the University of Montana. She also helped found the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts, at which her students Autio and Voulkos were inaugural residents. Senska believed that teachers were continually learning alongside students, and credits László Moholy-Nagy for her teaching philosophy of encouraging experimentation. Rather than taking on apprentices, she opted to collaborate with students. Senska was also unsatisfied with the factory-style production methods which were the status quo at the time. She learned how to complete every step of the pottery process herself – from harvesting clay to firing it – and taught her students to do the same.
Arthur Gonzalez is a ceramic sculptor who combines clay, paint, and found objects to create detailed and complex forms that often depict the human figure. Gonzalez’s work focuses on addressing the relationship between personal matters and world issues, displaying the characteristics of earnestness and apprehensiveness, which are then emphasized through his stylistic approach of a crude and rugged finish to his work. His sculptures are meant to produce unclear but constant emotions and visions that intend to dismantle the peaceful thought process.
Gonzalez attended the California State University, Sacramento where he received his B.A. (1977) and his M.A. with a concentration in painting (1979). He later attended the University of California, Davis where he studied under Robert Arneson and Manuel Neri and received his M.F.A. with a concentration in sculpture. Holmes later became an artist-in-residence at the University of Georgia, Athens where he studied from 1981 to 1982. He additionally was involved in the East Village Art Scene, an anti-commercial, anti-authoritarian, and experimental art movement of the early 1980’s that was based in New York and was comprised of a group of young artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Jeff Koons.
Alongside his studio practice, Gonzalez also has an extensive teaching practice, having taught classes, workshops, and lectures at a multitude of institutions. Gonzalez has served as an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design, Haystack School of Crafts, and has been currently serving as a tenured professor at the California College of the Arts since 1991.
Gonzalez has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including the National Endowment of the Arts Award (1982, 1984, 1986, 1990), the California Arts Council Fellowship (1994), the Virginia Groot Foundation award (1985, 1997), and the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Visual Arts Award (2001). Gonzalez’s work can be found in the public collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, DC, The Tainan National University of the Arts, Taiwan, and more.
Celebrate the closing of Joan Takayama-Ogawa’s rich 30-year retrospective. There will be remarks and refreshments at this free event. Please register by July 2.
Jeff Oestreich was trained in the austere simplicity of traditional Asian pottery while serving as an apprentice to Bernard Leach in England in the 1960s–70s. He will talk about his time at Leach Pottery in St. Ives and how its legacy continues to influence and resonate with contemporary artists. He will discuss and show his own work and the work of three potters who also apprenticed with Leach: Kat Wheeler, John Beddings, Roelof Ulys.
In the British tradition, after the talk, tea and scones will be served while attendees can meet the artist.
Libby Buckley, current director of Leach Pottery, will begin the presentation with a brief Zoom conversation about recent developments at the studio, including new buildings and exciting programs.
Let us know if you plan to attend: email@example.com
Nobuhito Nishigawara was born in and raised in Nagoya, Japan until 1990 when he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He began studying sculptural ceramics in 1993 and graduated from University College of Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada in 1996. Nishigawara also received a BFA in ceramics from Kansas City Art Institute in 1999 and a MFA from Arizona State University in 2002. His professional experience includes a prolific exhibition history, multiple academic positions, as well as assisting Ken Ferguson and Susan Peterson.
Nobuhito Nishigawara was assigned to head the ceramics program at California State University, Fullerton in fall of 2006. Nishigawara is currently a Professor of Ceramics in the department of Visual Arts at California State University, Fullerton.
Nishigawara’s recent series, Artificial Nature, develops a framework for ideas and interpretation to unfold while exploring the Japanese concept of MA—a space between or emptiness. This series of work harnesses ambiguity, allowing for reflections and interpretations to unfold through individual experiences. The works distill elements that emerge from nature, from the structure of plants to droplets of water, to establish moments of contemplation and beauty. Combining refined and gestural qualities in the work, they embrace this duality while they live precariously on the edge of beauty. Artificial Nature reflects Nishigawara’s own identity—neither fully Japanese or American—it is within this duality that he defines himself.
Nishigawara exhibits his sculptures both locally and nationally. Nishigawara’s major exhibitions include Akio Takamori and Nobuhito Nishigawara at Garth Clark Gallery in New York, NY, Three Generations in Ceramics (with Don Reitz) at University of Arizona Museum in Tucson, AZ, Ceramic Exhibition (with Stephen De Staebler) at Udinotti Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, and Japan/USA (with Jun Kaneko) at The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM.
Susan Wulfeck received a BFA from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in 1981 and an MFA from UCLA in 1984. She has exhibited with Garth Clark Gallery, Frank Lloyd Gallery and Freehand Gallery in Los Angeles. She lives in Atascadero, CA and taught ceramics at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo from 1998 until she retired in 2016. She shares a studio with her husband, ceramist David Wulfeck.
Wulfeck’s inspiration comes from her appreciation and love of pots and of the great traditions of pottery. Evolving from her early years as a functional potter and through graduate school, she came to understand that traditional pottery forms are a natural and appropriate way through which to explore and express a wider range of abstract/formal and conceptual issues. Her work represents an exploration of both form and surface and the interaction between the two.
David Wulfeck received a BA from San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University at Northridge) in 1971. He worked as a ceramics lab technician at UCLA and Cal State Northridge, and at Cuesta College. He received a Masters Equivalency in ceramics in 2005 and taught ceramics at Cuesta College from 2005 until his retirement in 2013. He has exhibited his work at Freehand Gallery in Los Angeles for many years.
Wulfeck’s involvement with ceramics began as an art student at San Fernando Valley State College in 1968. While he was studying painting he also took a sculpture class where he was introduced to figure modeling and learned the rudiments of abstract three-dimensional form; this led to a fascination with plastic clay. He then learned to throw on the potter’s wheel, and never stopped.
Over the years, his wheel-thrown pottery has evolved through a process of simplification and refinement. His work is characterized by strong form, subtle surface and a direct approach to craft. His work has been influenced by the New York School, particularly the painting of Mark Rothko and the sculpture and drawing of David Smith.