By Crocker Staff
In 2016, Elaine and Sidney Cohen of Phoenix, Arizona, donated an important group of contemporary American ceramics to the Crocker Art Museum. The collection includes pieces by many of the country’s best-known artists working in clay, approximately 60 of which will be on display in this exhibition. In terms of decoration, examples range from the bold minimalism of Jun Kaneko and Claude Conover to the figurative exuberance of Rudy Autio and Edwin and Mary Scheier. Some works are expressively raw, like those by Don Reitz and Tim Rowan; others, such as the porcelain works by Tom Rippon and Nobuhito Nishigawara, are elegantly refined. There are pieces that hint at functionality but are not meant to be used, including a covered jar by Viola Frey and the teapot-based forms of Rick Dillingham and Peter Shire, whereas other works are purely sculptural. Despite these differences, all extend the traditional boundaries of clay, just as the Cohen Collection itself expands the Crocker’s holdings and further reinforces its position as a leader in collecting and exhibiting ceramics.
Elaine and Sidney Cohen began collecting clay pieces early in their marriage, typically as they were hunting for American wood furniture in dusty barns and antiques shops. They were drawn to Red Wing crockery in various sizes, which they intended to use for storage or as table bases. They also liked and collected Bennington spatterware, which was both attractive and functional.
When they moved from the Chicago suburbs to Phoenix, and eventually to a 1987 Taliesin-designed home with numerous built-in spaces perfect for pottery, they started to acquire the works included in this collection. They had no definite plan to form a collection, they simply purchased work they liked until a varied collection was formed. Over time, they came to know Edwin and Mary Scheier, Rudy Autio, Jun Kaneko, and other ceramists personally, which deepened their appreciation. They decided to gift much of their collection the Crocker because it filled notable gaps in the Museum’s holdings and expanded upon its existing strengths.
Many of the artists whose work is included in the Cohen collection are represented by multiple pieces, making evident their evolution and breadth of achievement. The collection boasts particularly strong examples by husband-and-wife potters Edwin and Mary Scheier, who are known for finely thrown functional vessels with sgraffito or applied surface decoration.
The Scheiers began their careers as puppeteers, but discovered pottery and started working together as a team, learning their craft through experimentation. Mary became an expert on the wheel, throwing thin-walled pots often inspired by Chinese and Japanese forms; Edwin created colorful glazes, combining them with motifs drawn from folk traditions, the Bible, African and Oceanic art, archaeology, the natural world, and modern painting styles. The Scheiers lived for extended periods in New Hampshire; Oaxaca, Mexico; and, finally, Arizona. In Oaxaca, Mary developed arthritis and stopped throwing. For a time, Edwin concentrated on weaving, producing works on paper, and making sculpture. He later returned to clay in earnest, throwing and decorating spectacular, expressive vessels such as those in the Cohen Collection.
Rudy Autio is also represented by multiple pieces, which collectively show his progression from abstraction to figuration. Born in Butte, Montana, he remained in his native state for much of his career, teaching at the University of Montana for twenty-eight years. He was, with ceramicist Peter Voulkos, a founding artist at the Archie Bray Ceramics Foundation in Helena. Though best known for his figurative ceramic vessels, he also made prints and paintings and worked in bronze, concrete, glass, metal, and textiles. In clay, he influenced countless artists and has been called the “Matisse of Ceramics” because of his colorful figures and animals, which enwrap his biomorphic forms.
Jun Kaneko studied with Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and Jerry Rothman, and has since become one of the world’s leading ceramic sculptors. He has been included in group and solo exhibitions internationally and is represented in the Cohen collection by “chunks,” platters, and a slab piece, all of which showcase his unique, minimalist approach. Kaneko came to the United States from his native Japan in 1963 to study at Chouinard Art Institute. There, he met ceramics collector Fred Marer, who exposed him to the possibilities of sculptural ceramics. In the 1970s, he taught at the nation’s leading art schools, including Scripps College, Rhode Island School of Design, and Cranbrook Academy of Art. Since 1986, he has been based in Omaha, Nebraska, creating large-scale, hand-built sculptures in clay that are enlivened by glaze abstractions.
This exhibition is on view from August 5 to November 18, 2018.
Guest Lecture: Peter Held on The Cohen Collection of Contemporary Ceramics,
Sunday, August 5
Lunch & Learn: Talisman, 1994, by Rudy Autio
Tuesday, September 4
12 & 1 PM