MoCC Surveys Mid-Century Pacific Northwest Ceramics

Release date: 05/18/11

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Museum of Contemporary Craft presents Northwest Modern: Revisiting the Annual Ceramic Exhibitions of 1950-64, an examination of juried exhibitions held at the Oregon Ceramic Studio (OCS), now Museum of Contemporary Craft. Concurrent with the Museum’s 75th anniversary year, the exhibition provides visitors with a deeper look into an important time period during which MoCC played a pivotal role in defining new, modern forms and ideas about ceramics.

The selection process for each Annual Exhibition of Northwest Ceramics involved a “call to artists” sent out by the OCS to artists and craftspeople in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana requesting the submission of ceramic work for entry into the competition. Original works were shipped to Portland, where the jurors reviewed the pieces and made their selections. Local collectors and institutions later acquired many of these pieces. Award-winning artworks from each of the Annual Exhibitions of Northwest Ceramics have been identified and gathered from the Museum collection, the collection of the Portland Art Museum and public and private collections for this look back at mid-century ceramics in the Pacific Northwest.

Through the Annuals, the Oregon Ceramic Studio supported and promoted what were then emerging but are now recognized ceramists who changed how clay is understood as a creative medium, such as Rudy Autio, Ken Ferguson, Betty Feves, David Shaner and Peter Voulkos. Most importantly, these eleven exhibitions, held over fourteen years, granted local artists an audience with national figures. The OCS brought in nationally-recognized figures in the field to jury each exhibition, including Edith Heath (of Heath Ceramics), Edgar Kaufmann Jr. (director of the industrial design department at MoMA) and Maija Grotell (head of ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art), amongst a host of regionally important artists and educators, such as Rachael Griffin(curator, Portland Art Museum), Manuel Izquierdo (Pacific Northwest College of Art) and Robert Sperry (University of Washington).

As is evident today with widespread public interest in exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial, there is a renewed enthusiasm for general “survey” exhibitions that highlight current trends and developments in the field. Likewise, the juried series at OCS highlighted the important shift in ceramics from the functional, traditional work of the 1940s and 1950s to the expressive sculptural forms of the 1960s, and documented an important time period in American ceramics on the West coast.

Northwest Modern will be installed chronologically by each Annual Exhibition, with original artwork and ephemera from the Museum’s archives shown alongside reproductions of photographs that tell the story of modern West Coast ceramics. The survey of these eleven exhibitions will also provide a behind-the-scenes look into the inner workings of the institution at that time. An essay by Ezra Shales, Assistant Professor of Art History at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University, NY, will be released online to provide national context for this pivotal exhibition series. Northwest Modern: Revisiting the Annual Ceramic Exhibitions of 1950-64 is the curatorial debut of Kat Perez, Exhibition Coordinator at Museum of Contemporary Craft.