Back to the Future: Ceramic Art, Glidden Ware & The New Kids

gliddenGlidden Parker had much to do with the Twentieth Century history of fine ceramic art. Most of us, unwittingly, know him for the legacy of the pieces left behind in a drafty barn; pieces sold in the 1950’s to Paul Secon, co-founder of Pottery Barn. But it was Glidden’s research and work which served as the academic and artistic foundation for the study of ceramic arts at Alfred University in Alfred, NY.

I grew up with Glidden Ware Pottery. Mother served gravy in it at the holidays. My father was a native of Alfred, NY as was  Glidden. Alfred– a sleepy college town that borders Pennsylvania; a place in the middle of nowhere, some might say.

Glidden Parker’s influence on ceramic art is renowned. With comparisons drawn to Chinese Dynasties and work on display in museums, it is likely that Glidden serves as inspiration to scores of students and emerging artists shaking off the dust of the southern tier of New York and moving on to the fertile grounds of Asheville, NC, the Coasts, and the Twin Cities to make their own mark.

 Glidden Pottery is described as “the American equivalent of the Chinese Song Dynasty (960-1279) …The Chinese people’s ware was a stoneware product made for the upwardly mobile merchant class.” It is unique for the glaze, process and affordability: “Glidden Pottery, produced in the United States nearly a millennium later, utilized modern production methods of slipcasting or ram pressing, but each of the more than 200 shapes were individually glazed and decorated. And most pieces were intentionally marked with a Glidden Pottery signature or backstamp which varied over the years… Gliddenware was affordable for many.” (Credit: Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art Gallery guide)

The New Kids

David Swenson
David Swenson

On a recent December evening in Minneapolis, Minnesota, two events brought ceramic and glass artists together to showcase their talent– some of whom developed their creative gifts at AU. Winter Wares at Circa Gallery and Pairing Pottery Dinner at Sapor Café and Bar provided unique opportunities for a melding of cuisine, art and community. Similar events are happening around the country, but none quite like this; a traveling show, so-to-speak, the artists moving from venue to venue, shifting the quality and tone of the event in progress.The dinner, which drew upon visual and culinary themes inspired by the textures and colors of Peru, Japan and India, provided a perfect palette for the artists to show off their stuff. AU Alum, Nick Moen (Nick Moen Studios, Asheville, NC) and Kathryn Adams (Manager, Asheville Glass Center, Asheville, NC), collaborated with fellow artist, AU Alum David Swenson, of The Northern Clay Center, and restaurateurs, Tanya Sienbenaler (chef and co-founder) and Julie Steenerson to create Pairing Pottery Dinner. The fine art, and function, of the work would have made Glidden proud. Each uniquely sculpted piece was used to serve and feed guests. Following a thorough cleanse– in a most modern dishwasher– many pieces were prepared for sale, diners already anxious to own the very plates upon which they had recently eaten.

Venue Shift: Circa Gallery

Circa
Circa

Glidden’s work may have been left to a drafty barn, but Tom Lancaster, friend of artist Nick Moen, and host of the Circa Gallery event, was determined that the ceramic artists on view be duly celebrated for the vision and functionality of their labors. Artists mingled with guests, sharing stories about the design and creative labor of specific pieces.Tom shared a story that highlighted the accessible, multifaceted nature of ceramic arts. “A guest of the show arrived and indicated that she was visually impaired. She was worried about experiencing the show; how she would ‘look at it’”.“I told her not to give it a second thought. We walked through together and she marveled at the pieces that were so ‘visually tactile’…like a mug with an intricate, patterned surface and the plate by Victoria Dawes that has a bite mark constructed in to the design– she was just blown away by those pieces and bought them to add to her collections.”

Back to the Gravy

In reality, this is all about gravy. Yes, the functional, museum worthy piece in which my mother served the holiday sauce; the legacy piece of ceramic art, reborn on the table at Sapor Café and Bar and then held in the hands of the woman at Circa Gallery, proving that art and function, design and genius are alive in the hands and hearts of the artists throwing plates and pots and cups­– and blowing glass in studios around the country. Art does not need to be beyond one’s reach, nor should it be. The simplicity of shared experience does much to level the playing field and reminds us that Glidden Parker; obscured in history by the shimmer of the Pottery Barns of the world, wanted to craft beautiful, functional art, unique, yet noteworthy. The art on display, and on the table, in Minneapolis, Minnesota is a tribute– and new chapter in the world of ceramic art.

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