What we enjoy about the Cowan’s sales catalogs is their commitment to detailed information. The often-expanded captions give a sense of the artist, their contribution to the field at large and where the object being sold is placed within the artist’s oeuvre.
Above image: Richard Notkin (1948, USA), Heart Teapot: Hiroshima III (Yixing Series), 1989, stoneware teapot, 7 x 11 x 5.5 inches, artist signed and dated on base. Estimate: $8,000 — $12,000.
The following lots are selections from the Cowan’s Modern Ceramics Auction (Cleveland, October 23, 2015), supported at times with Cowan’s information about the work. CFile Chief Garth Clark and Mark DelVecchio are co-curating the auction with Cowan’s.
Waylande Desantis Gregory was one of the most innovative and prolific American Art Deco ceramic sculptors of the early 20th century. His groundbreaking techniques enabled him to create monumental ceramic sculpture, such as the “The Fountain of the Atom” shown at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Gregory became the leading sculptor of the Cowan Pottery Studio in Cleveland, OH from 1928-1931. This unique piece of a “Mother and Child” exhibits the style and strength of this sculptor’s work and comes directly from the Estate of the artist.
Considered the most sought-after of all the forms by Dillingham, this “Globe” has all the classic beauty that made Dillingham a significant figure in the ceramics movement of the 20th century. Surfaces in bright green and orange glazes highlighted with gold leaf, the fractured “shards” are reassembled like a quilt and create power and history within this vessel form.
American ceramic art exploded with this extension of what DeVore found in clay. The “double break-away” that resembled the human body, sexual identity and explored the physical relationship of ceramics and humans. No one had ever done this concept in clay and DeVore is revered for his exploration of the subtleties of how ceramics and humanity could be contained in a ceramic vessel. This is an excellent example of one of the most extraordinary artists of our time.
The collaboration of this husband and wife couple becomes twice as powerful when the handling of the material by North American Michael is met with the decoration skills of South American Magdalena, creating a post-modern collision of form and surface.
A star of post-WWII studio ceramics, Bacerra’s dazzling work is prized both polychromatically and technically. His difficult, multi-firing method ensured that only works which emerged in immaculate condition could be shown. Representing the pinnacle of a certain approach to ceramics, Bacerra’s work was about his love of process. Yes, America has produced many masters of decoration in the past half century but it is no insult to any of them to say that Bacerra’s vast multi-faceted oeuvre stands in a class alone. This “Zig-Zag” Platter from 1983 is a rare body of work. The form was difficult and not repeated within his career. The surface is rich and colorful, everything that pleased this artist who passed away at the age of 70. Bacerra is currently the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the art school he taught at for years, Otis Institute in Los Angeles at the Ben Maltz Gallery, September through December of this year. It is titled Exquisite Beauty and is curated by Jo Lauria.
Martin Smith is Professor of Ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London and is considered to be one of the most important minimalists in ceramics today. Martin Smith’s work is included in many public collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Museum Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, and the Kanazama Crafts Council, Taiwan.
Born in 1932, Gordon Baldwin studied painting and pottery, first at the Lincoln School of Art and then at the Central School of Art and Design in London. Strongly influenced by contemporary sculpture, Baldwin began hand-building in the 1950’s using a variety of techniques and has since gained a reputation as a major artist. He has made work in both earthenware and stoneware, often reworking and refiring pieces several times. Primarily concerned with the vessel, his work has become increasingly sculptural in nature. At the age of 83, Baldwin remains one of the kingpins of contemporary ceramic art today.
Rudy Autio was born in Butte, Montana and educated at Montana State and Washington State Universities. In 1952, along with Peter Voulkos and his wife, Lela, he became a founding resident of the Archie Bray Foundation, a center of ceramic art that continues to influence the field today. Autio headed the ceramics department at the University of Montana until his passing. Over the years, recognition and awards have accumulated: in 1963 he received a Tiffany Award in Crafts; in 1978 the American Ceramic Society Award; in 1980 a National Endowment grant to work and teach at the Arabia Porcelain Factory in Finland and the University of Helsinki; in 1981 the first Governor’s Art Award in the State of Montana. This exceptional tri-sided work is powerful without being in the large scale. Possessing all the qualities that made this artist’s career, there is a mystery within the imagery that captivates the viewer.
Highly reminiscent of current work being made today by Woodman, this “Pillow Pitcher” has all the power of the artist’s handling of the material as well as her superb painting skills.
Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Buzio worked in clay in New York since 1972, creating abstract volumes and cityscapes. She produced works that are unique for the medium, a distinctive fusion of painting and sculpture made of terracotta.
This piece, from 1984, has the “gray and cloudy skies” of the New York skyline giving both emotion to the painting skills of this artist as well as a form that leads the eye upward that elevates the vessel. This piece is a true masterwork of Buzio’s talent. Sadly, Buzio recently passed away at the age of 66.
Takamori first made his name with his innovative “envelope” vessel forms inspired by Ukiyo-e prints and the way that reclining couples created shallow vessel-like spaces. This piece is a significant example of Takamori’s play with outside cultures. This piece, based on Michelangelo’s “Pieta” showing Christ in the arms of Mary, is among the most important works by this artist, crossing boundaries of culture, religion and time.
Reference: Held, Peter, ed. Between Clouds of Memory: Akio Takamori, a mid-career survey. Tempe: Arizona State University Art Museum, Ceramics Research Center, 2005.
Notkin is an American artist born in Chicago, Illinois. He earned a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1970 studying under Ken Ferguson. In 1973 he received his MFA from the University of California, Davis where he studied under one of America’s greatest ceramic sculptors, Robert Arneson. The sheer detail of his “lonely” sidewalk teapots based on the Chinese Yixing Tradition are highly prized by collectors and have never lost their political power over the decades. The detail of these works is amazing right down to the treads of the tires which show their worn quality. The “tire” on the lid is loose and is the element you pick up when handling the lid, another Yixing tradition used in an American concept.
Robert Arneson was an American sculptor and professor of ceramics in the Art Department at UC Davis for nearly three decades and is considered the foremost American sculptor of his time. In the 1960s, Arneson began to abandon the traditional manufacture of functional items in favor of using everyday objects to make confrontational statements. The new movement was dubbed “Funk Art” and Arneson is considered the father of the ceramic Funk movement. Arneson’s fame is far-reaching and his works can be found in public and private collections around the world, including the Chicago Art Institute, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, New York City), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Kyoto, Japan), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.
The title of this work reflects a painful poignancy, sight and sound, mixed metaphors and the twigs that extend from the animal’s eye sockets may or may not have caused blindness but could also appear as devices to extend vision. In the tradition of the “bestiary” this is a moral lesson in overcoming adversity.
Cavener’s work focuses her sculpture on human psychology, stripped of context and rationalization, and articulated through animal forms. “On the surface,” says Cavener, “these figures are simply feral animals suspended in a moment of tension. Beneath the surface, they embody the consequences of human fear, apathy, aggression, and misunderstanding.” In making these painstakingly modeled works, Cavener has learned to read meaning in the subtler signs; “rely[ing] on animal body language in [her] work as a metaphor for these underlying patterns, transforming the animal subjects into human psychological portraits. Something conscious and knowing is captured in their gestures and expressions, both an invitation and a rebuke.”
Beth Cavener’s education has been extensive: Cecil Academy of Arts, Florence, Italy, 1994; Haverford College, BA, Sculpture, 1995; Ohio State University, MFA, Ceramics, 2002. Awards: Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship, 2005; Emerging Artist Grant, American Crafts Council, 2003 and others. She is in numerous collections such as Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, TN; Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ; Northwest Museum of Art and Culture, Spokane, WA; 21C Museum, Louisville, KY.
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