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Master of Surprise - Full Edition

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An Artistic Relationship Set in Stoneware

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Frans Wildenhain: Creative And Commercial American Ceramics At Mid-Century

Henrietta Post
Frans Wildenhain exhibition debuting at RIT

The Express
'Lost' Mural

Mid-Century Ceramics by Franz Wildenhain

German Missions in the United States
Exhibition of Ceramics by Bauhaus-trained Potter on View at R.I.T.

Antiques And The Arts
Frans Wildenhain 1950-75

Frans Wildenhain 1950-75

Frans Wildenhain at the RIT

Modernism Magazine
Frans Wildenhain and Shop One - Pioneering Crafts Emporium

New England Antiques Journal
Beyond Bauhaus - The career and ceramics of Frans Wildenhain

Frans Wildenhain is a Newly Publicized Studio Potter

RIT University News
Handcrafted Legacy: Frans Wildenhain Exhibition Debuts at RIT Aug. 20 - Oct. 2

RIT University News
Honoring the Craft: The Mid - Century Ceramic Legacy of Frans Wildenhain

RIT University News
A look inside the world of Frans Wildenhain

RIT University News
School for American Crafts alumni remember Frans Wildenhain's ceramic legacy

RIT Reporter
Chiseling Lives In Stone

Modern Magazine

Fall 2012

My father and grandfather were carpenters. My mother said: "Frans, do not be a carpenter." Therefore I am a potter. And so Frans Wildenhain was, in his life and work often at odds with his background and influences, as explored in Frans Wildenhain 1950-75: Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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While trained as a master potter at the Bauhaus under such modernist heavyweights as László Moholy-Nagy, Wildenhain disregarded the minimalism and universality associated with the school in favor of a more characteristically arts and crafts handmade aesthetic. The exhibition will follow the trajectory of his career, including focusing on Shop One, a retail outlet Wildenhain founded with three other artists to sell handmade pieces, and his role in founding the School for American Craftsmen still operating at RIT. Works on display are largely drawn from a recent donation to the museum by longtime collector of Wildenhain's work Robert Bradley Johnson. A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition with a biography by curator Bruce A. Austin and essays focusing on the pivotal endeavors of Wildenhain's career.

Reviews of the Wildenhain Book

The Frans Wildenhain book created to accompany the exhibit has been well-received by reviewers and publications with diverse interests. The Art Libraries Society of North America noted the book goes "well beyond the traditional biography of the artist and his works, the catalog contextualizes the cultural, academic, and economic factors of the mid-twentieth century that influenced not only Wildenhain's career, but also the state of contemporary American craft." Jessica Shaykett concludes the book is "exhaustively researched and stunningly presented...highly recommended for any library collecting materials on ceramics, mod-century decorative arts and design, and the post WWII arts marketplace." Maine Antique Digest encourages readers to "pause and peruse the illustrations. The photographs of the pots inspire a wish to hold them." Writing in the NY-PA Collector, Steve Bodnar writes "the book is a comprehensive reference of everything to do with Wildenhain, all while providing a contextualization of the history of art and craft surrounding his dynamic and extensive career."

Art Libraries Society, March/April 2013

Art Libraries Society/NA
March/April 2013
by Jessica Shaykett, Librarian, American Craft Council

Frans Wildenhain 1950-75: Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century was published alongside a major retrospective exhibition of the ceramist's work presented at the Bevier Gallery and Dyer Arts Center, both at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), in fall of 2012. Going well beyond the traditional biography of the artist and his works, the catalog contextualizes the cultural, academic, and economic factors of the mid-twentieth century that influenced not only Wildenhain's career, but also the state of contemporary American craft.

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Wildenhain and his first wife, Marguerite, were products of the Bauhaus pottery school in Germany in the 1920s. After immigrating to the United States in the 1940s, Marguerite's ceramics career overshadowed that of her husband, causing tension in the relationship, which author Bruce Austin, a professor in RIT's College of Liberal Arts and organizer of the exhibition, comprehensively documents in his biography of the artist. Reaching a breaking point, Frans left Marguerite and in 1950 came to RIT as one of the founding professors of the School of American Craftsmen (SAC). Through firsthand access to unpublished notebooks from the RIT archives and interviews with students, Austin records the artist's boisterous, often challenging disposition, as well as his brilliant achievements as a leader in the post-World War II studio pottery movement. It is a commendable job cataloging information on the life of an artist not collectively documented in other publications.

The four chapters after the artist's biography include a scholarly orientation to the history of the SAC by RIT archivist Becky Simmons, followed by a tidy introduction to post-World War II studio pottery by Jonathan Clancy of Sotheby's. Austin rounds out the last two chapters with an essay on Shop One, a retail outlet that Wildenhain and three colleagues initiated in the 1950s to sell handcrafted objects in Rochester, as well as an enlightening interview with Robert Bradley Johnson, the donor of Wildenhain works who made the exhibition possible.

Exhaustively researched and stunningly presented, this book is illustrated with a compendium of photographs of Wildenhain's sculptures, earthenware pots, and ceramic murals, alongside essential archival images of the artist, the SAC, and Shop One. Although the bibliographic notes are extensive, the text lacks an index, which is unfortunate given the depth of information provided. Also absent are sufficient images of works by contemporaries illuminated so comprehensively in the later essays. Nonetheless, this catalog is highly recommended for any library collecting materials on ceramics, mid-century decorative arts and design, and the post-WWII arts marketplace.

Maine Antique Digest, February 2013

Maine Antique Digest
February 2013, p. 10-D
by A.C.V. (staff writer)

What began as a modest proposal became a chronicle rooted in a history of craft and the art of craft formulated by focusing on the life and work of Frans Wildenhain, and it spiraled into the related topics of the school where he spent most of his mature career, the School for American Craftsmen (SAC) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and the shop that became the "granddaddy" of art/craft galleries, Shop One. Author Bruce A. Austin of RIT explains in his introduction that he had proposed a small retrospective show of Wildenhain's ceramics; that proposal had fizzled at first, but then, mostly because of a donation by collector Robert B. Johnson of 330 pots by Wildenhain, fortuitous connections helped it grow into a major project. The exhibition of dozens of exemplary pots has ended, but this fine catalog/book of craft history remains to tell the intertwined sagas around the central figure.

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Frans Wildenhain (1905-1980) lived a vivid life, as told by Austin, who used a large array of research that included firsthand recollections, personal notebooks, and published articles and books. The biography, the second chapter of this catalog, is told with an aptly convivial and respectful stance. It begins and ends with Frans's complex relationship to Marguerite Wildenhain, a Bauhaus-trained master potter, his mentor, and his first wife - a woman of idealism, talent, and practical inspiration. In between, we are given many remembered incidents and generalizations from his students and coworkers and from the notebooks that Frans kept. Austin inserts the relevant chronological information to place Frans in the continuum of SAC's history and by extension the history of American art-craft in the mid-20th century. You catch glimpses of several key figures in the so-called craft movement of the period. For instance, Frans wrote into a personal notebook in March 1976: "Mrs. [Aileen Vanderbilt] Webb, through you-your vision, ambition-I came to Rochester. I know that you were instrumental [in getting me] to come to this place ... I gave something. I received a lot. I know you are very clear. I know I am very fussy. Still, I love you for all you have done for the development of American Crafts."

That segues into the third section of the book, "Craft Education and the First Thirty Years of the School for American Craftsmen," written by Becky Simmons. For those who are learning about mid- 20th-century crafts (perhaps to augment antiques), this is a clearly written and good place to begin. Of course, the movement was and is national in scope, and this is only a part, but it is significant because it is directly connected to the history of the American Crafts Council (ACC). For a pointed discussion of the history of studio pottery during this period, the next section, researched and written by Jonathan Clancy, provides a balanced and clearly presented point of view. Clancy begins with a quotation by Mary and Edwin Scheier about clay and working in it (used for part of his chapter's title), "No Medium for the Craftsman Unsure of Himself." Clancy writes, "This essay frames the boundaries of ceramic productions within the United States so that a richer appreciation of Wildenhain's position within the field emerges." That summarizes it.

At any point, pause and peruse the illustrations. The photographs of the pots inspire a wish to hold them. The large number of great photographs will stand as a testimony to Wildenhain's career and serve as a reference. Kudos to A. Sue Weisler for her sensitive photos. In the early 198O's Ronald Hayes Pearson (1924-1996) told me that he had been a co-owner of Shop One. He smiled as he spoke of Frans Wildenhain. Pearson became a friend who helped me understand that marketing fine handcrafts takes a lot of work in itself. The fifth chapter of this book, "Selling Crafts at Mid-Century: Moving the Merch at Shop One," brought it all home again. Bruce Austin writes this chapter as history, naturally, but one could learn some timeless information about marketing from it. Here is a nugget, albeit an obvious one: "An old chestnut in the antiques trade explains the problem confronting novice antiques dealers who busy themselves with inventory acquisition: if inventory is what defines an antiques dealer, then anyone can be one since the only thing required is money. Buying, in other words, is easy; selling is hard." That one follows another obvious point, but one worth reiterating: "Whatever the fine discriminations drawn among antiques, fine art, and crafts, all three share at least one attribute: they are luxury products, personal indulgences, and are not necessities. Because of this, there is no predictable, purchase-ready cohort of buyers for them as there is for, say, that offered by the grocery store. Their consumer markets are narrow and shallow." This is a sobering thought if marketing is not your forte, as seems to have been the case with Wildenhain.

Frans Wildenhain evidently had "a contrary, and counterproductive, view of fame. ..[and] did little to stimulate that kind of attention," according to Austin. Perhaps that was in his favor in the long run, because his works so obviously embody his passion for the serious work of creating in clay, not creating a market. Surely that is worthy in itself. Not every seriously passionate artist is also good at promotion. No wonder that Wildenhain felt gratitude for someone like Aileen Osborn Vanderbilt Webb and for a collector like Robert Johnson, who is quoted in the fascinating interview included at the end of the book as saying, "Frans would introduce me to everyone as the person who allowed him to put a new roof on his house."

NY-PA Collector, January 2013

NY-PA Collector
January 2013, p. 1-B
by Steve Bodnar

An optical engineer named Robert Johnson caught the collecting bug in 1955 after he unassumingly stopped by a Rochester, N.Y. craft store to go shopping for his new apartment. He decided to buy a lamp made by one of the shop owners: Frans Wildenhain (1905-1980), a Master Potter and ceramics professor at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Unknown at the time, the transaction that took place was an important occurrence in the lives of both men.

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Johnson's purchase would become the springboard for "the largest and most diverse single-owner collection of Wildenhain's work from across the artist's most prolific period," writes Bruce A. Austin in his recently released 256-page catalog, "Frans Wildenhain 1950-75: Creative and Commercial American Ceramics at Mid-Century," a text published to accompany an extensive art exhibition by the same name.

In the catalog, Austin, the organizer of the exhibit, offers a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding and leading up to the display of the Wildenhain collection, which took place at RIT from Aug. 20 to Oct. 2, 2012. Seamlessly, Austin introduces readers to the collector, the collection, and the artist; taking time to provide a comprehensive narrative that skillfully intertwines historical information and current perspectives.

Born in Germany and trained at the Bauhaus, Wildenhain was a productive craftsman and artist for more than five decades. He garnered awards for his work from around the world, including a prestigious Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1958. A disciplined pottery artist and dedicated teacher, Wildenhain impressed his peers, his students, the public alike. As Austin describes, Wildenhain's life narrative begins with a modest upbringing in Europe and concludes as a renowned retired ceramics professor in Rochester. It is perhaps not the kind of rags to riches story told by Horatio Alger, but it is after all an intriguing read set amidst a historical context.

In all, the exhibition catalog features five chapters of scholarship, approximately 130 images of pieces from the collection, and more than 20 archival photographs. Austin writes three chapters: a neatly present introduction, an epic biography on Wildenhain, and the history of the innovative craft store, Shop One, at which Johnson did his collecting. Austin also provides an enjoyably transcribed interview between himself the steadfast collector, Johnson, who in 2010, made a substantial donation of 330 Wildenhain pieces to RIT. The donated works, ranging from beautifully glazed sculptural vessels to functional art pottery, arc boldly presented throughout the catalog in photographs by A. Sue Weisler. The sharp visualizations illuminate the collection in a way that captures the essence of the product of Wildenhain's hands at work.

Jonathan Clancy of Sotheby's Institute of Art and Becky Simmons of RIT's Archive Special Collections join Austin in exploring the broader context through which the collection and its Bauhaus-trained artist can be better understood and appreciated.

In his chapter, Clancy reports on the world of 20th century studio pottery created after the Second World War. He brings the reader up-to-date, by framing "the boundaries of ceramic productions within the United States" so that a clearer view of "Wildenhain's position within the field emerges." Clancy narrates the trajectory ceramics from the early stages of the Arts and Crafts movement through to the American Studio Pottery movement, referencing its important cast of artists and expounding on facets of form, function, design, and innovation.

Important to understanding the teaching environment in which Wildenhain came to be a part at RIT, Simmons explores the history of the School for American Craftsman (SAC) in her chapter. She details the course of SAC's existence from its humble beginnings at Dartmouth College in 1944, its time at Alfred University, to its midcentury move to RIT where it currently exists as the School for American Crafts.

Enriching the context of Wildenhain's teaching years at RIT, Simmons provides an appealing review of the significant figures which helped to make his career as a professor possible, including Aileen Osborn Vanderbilt Webb, the "remarkable" New York philanthropist who backed SAC's creation, and Harold Brennan who focused the school's direction and curriculum, eventually becoming the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at RIT.

Overall, Wildenhain's life is revealed as in depth it has ever been, particularly in the biographical chapter. The section begins with the point of separation of Frans and his wife, Marguerite Wildenhain. It appropriately demonstrates Wildenhain's progression as craftsman and artist. The reader is left with a clear depiction of Wildenhain's path from his modernist roots to the end of his career as a ceramics professor at RIT.

Importantly, Austin provides the necessary framework through which readers can acquaint themselves with Wildenhain, his life and legacy, and the context of his work. Illuminated through carefully prepared text and photographs, readers of the catalog are able to view Wildenhain as a versatile, yet distinctly styled ceramist. The book is a comprehensive reference of everything to do with Wildenhain, all while providing a contextualization of the history of art and craft surrounding his dynamic and extensive career.

The hardcover catalog (ISBN 978-0-615645278) is available on the exhibition website, for $50. Purchases will support a fund for original research conducted by RIT students.

Life in the Finger Lakes, Winter 2012

Life in the Finger Lakes
Winter 2012, p. 78
by Laurel C. Wemett

At the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the fall of 2012, two galleries exhibited the work of Frans Wildenhain (1905-1980), an internationally recognized artist best known for ceramics. This 256-page catalog to accompany the exhibit features chapters on the artist and related topics.

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Wildenhain was the last student to enter the Bauhaus Pottery in Germany in 1925. He came to RIT in 1950 as one of the founding professors of the School of American Craftsmen. RIT owns the largest Wildenhain collection in the world thanks to a donation by Robert Bradley Johnson - the book concludes with an interview with the donor. Bruce Austin, a professor in RIT's College of Liberal Arts, organized the exhibition, and penned an insightful biography of the charismatic artist. He also wrote an essay on Shop One, a retail outlet initiated in the 1950s by Wildenhain and three colleagues to sell handcrafted objects in Rochester.

A scholarly chapter by Becky Simmons chronicles the School for American Craftsmen at RIT, which is today considered the nation's leading crafts school. Studio Pottery after World War II is explored by contributor Jonathan Clancy.

Copiously illustrated with photographs of Wildenhain's sculptures, ranging from his earthenware pots to ceramic murals, this handsome book will appeal to devotees of the artist, ceramics, marketing of crafts at mid-20th century and their connection to RIT.