Contemporary Ceramics: Once Considered A Craft, Now Elevated To Fine Art

Contemporary Ceramics: Once considered a craft, now elevated to fine art

The boundaries between craft and art are often a matter of contention, especially concerning ceramics, or objects made of clay and hardened by heat. Throughout time people have worked with clay to shape tools useful to life: bowls, spoons, water carriers. And since the beginning of time some have taken the notion to transform a utilitarian object into a thing of beauty, a thing that transcends “the useful” to become “the admirable,” “the breathtaking,” “the head-scratchingly weird but fascinating.” That is art.

Perhaps intention is the key to the difference between craft and art, perhaps the difference is a muse taking hold of the creator, perhaps the difference has to do with long years of honing a creative vision in order to produce unique and compelling piece. The result, regardless, is a body of work worthy of being set aside to be admired, saved, and ultimately shared with others in venues such as galleries and museums.

A collection of fine art ceramics that transcends the category of craft finds a home at the Springfield Museums. This month Maggie North, assistant curator of art at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, has selected items from the collection for display in an exhibition titled, “Ceramics from the Vault.” This exhibition features modern and contemporary ceramics from the permanent collection. Selected objects celebrate the outstanding creativity of American artists working in clay during the 20th century, including Brother Thomas Bezanson, George William Peterson III, and Beatrice Wood.

“The artists featured in this exhibition participated in a movement that shaped the history and status of ceramics,” said North. “Over the course of the last century, ceramicists engaged in unprecedented experimentation with shapes, firing techniques, and glazes. The work they created, and the work in this show, is incredibly artful, surprising, and beautiful.”

Recognized by American museums as fine art only within the past seventy years, ceramic pieces are still often relegated to the category of decorative art or craft. Come see the exhibit and decide for yourself—is this craft or is this fine art.

Sampling of the Artists Included

Brother Thomas Bezanson: (1929–2007): Canadian Benedictine monk Brother Thomas is known for adapting traditional Asian pottery techniques to his own style. He is also known as a master of complex glazes.

George William Peterson III:(1953– )Peterson was one of the five American apprentices to study with Seizan Takatori in the 17th-century Korean style called Enshu-Takatori. After completing the apprenticeship in 1978 George Peterson returned to the United States to set up the kiln Tsuchizaiku in Huntington, Massachusetts.

Beatrice Wood: (1893–1998): American artist Wood was characterized as the “Mama of Dada.” Her pottery glazing technique was a signature style that involved drawing metallic salts out by depriving the kiln of oxygen.