Making Clay Modern

"Making Clay Modern: The Decorated Pottery of Henry Varnum Poor", Lecture by Caroline Hannah

Lecture on November 12, 7-9pm at the Greenwich House Music School, 2nd floor, 46 Barrow Street

"During the 1920s, the academically trained American painter Henry Varnum Poor (1887-1970) turned towards craft and design—an unusual though certainly not unprecedented step given the impact of the Arts and Crafts Movement in this country. Poor experimented with a variety of media at Crow House, his handbuilt studio home in the Hudson River Valley, but it was his ceramics that propelled him onto a national stage and for which he is perhaps best remembered today. Beginning in 1922, when Poor first exhibited at the Manhattan gallery of Newman E. Montross, his decorated pottery was championed as modern art and immediately sought after by museums and collectors. This talk considers why Poor’s traditionally made and decorated earthenware (generally handpainted metallic oxides on slip, often with sgraffito), was considered “modern.” In doing so, it examines Poor’s contribution as one of the first “studio” potters in the U.S.A. and discusses how his work and “way of life,” exemplified by his fifty years as a potter at Crow House, anticipated the Studio Craft Movement."

CAROLINE HANNAH is a design historian and Ph.D. candidate at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture. In support of her dissertation, which focuses on the interrelationship of art, craft, and design in the work of Henry Varnum Poor, she has received fellowships from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design, and the Bard Graduate Center. She is a founding member of the Henry Varnum Poor Foundation a.k.a. Friends of Crow House.

Recommended reading associated with the topic:

Garth Clark, American Ceramics: 1876 to the Present. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1987.

Caroline Hannah, “Crow House Rising,” in American Craft 68, no. 3, June/July 2008.

Barbara Perry, “Modernism and American Ceramics,” in Janet Kardon, ed., Craft in the Machine Age: The History of Twentieth-Century American Craft, 1920 –1945. New York: Harry N. Abrams and the American Craft Museum, 1996.

Henry Varnum Poor, A Book of Pottery: From Mud to Immortality. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1958.

Linda Steigleider, “Ceramics and Design,” in Harold E. Dickson and Richard Porter, Henry Varnum Poor: 1887-1970, A Retrospective Exhibition. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Museum of Art, 1983.

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