Robert Bradley Johnson knew he was bitten by the collector’s disease when he couldn’t stop buying Frans Wildenhain’s ceramic pieces. When the two men finally met, the sculptor told Johnson, “You helped pay for the roof of my house.”
“I started collecting his pieces in 1955,” says 78-year-old Johnson from his Scottsville, N.Y., home. “A friend introduced me to Shop One, which at that time was the only craft shop in Rochester. So I picked up a couple of his lamps, a tea caddy, a few bowls, enough to fill all the corners of my new apartment.”
Johnson later moved to his farmhouse in 1971, and the collection grew to fit the added space during several renovations to his home. The final tally was 330 pieces — 300 of which Johnson recently donated to the RIT Archive Collections.
Now Wildenhain’s artistry has come home to RIT, where he taught in the early 1950s and for the next 20 years in what is now known as the School for American Crafts.
Johnson describes Wildenhain—who received his artistic training in the early 1920s at the Bauhaus pottery workshop in Weimar, Germany—as an imposing person who exuded electricity. “You could feel his sense of power and confidence,” Johnson recalls.
“Perfection is dull and what I treasured about Wildenhain’s pottery were the irregularities—how his fingers could mold clay into something that lives and breathes life. I never got tired of looking at them, and to me that was a priceless gift.”
Joint exhibitions of the collection are planned for fall 2012 at Bevier Gallery and Dyer Arts Center at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
A few pieces of the Wildenhain collection are on display in the Gallery for RIT History and Art on the first floor of The Wallace Center.