Live FormWomen, Ceramics, and Community

Live FormWomen, Ceramics, and Community

Jenni Sorkin

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226303116

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


A thematic and gendered history of post-war American ceramics, this book focuses on three American women ceramists, Marguerite Wildenhain (1896-1985), a Bauhaus-trained potter who taught form as process without product at her summer craft school Pond Farm; Mary Caroline (M.C.) Richards (1916-1999), who renounced formalism at Black Mountain College in favor of a therapeutic model she pursued outside academia; and Susan Peterson (1925-2009), who popularized ceramics through live throwing demonstrations on public television in 1964-65. These artists utilized ceramics as a conduit for social contact through teaching, writing, and the performance of their medium. At mid-century, functional pottery was more than just an art form, it was a lifestyle, offering mid-century women extraordinary autonomy, both economically and socially, through experimental artistic communities that were collective in nature. Ceramics offers a compelling site for examining the sexism and media hierarchies embedded in modernist art histories. It became a viable alternative to the mainstream, urban art worlds of New York City and Los Angeles, a space in which women could innovate, teach, and create lasting pedagogical structures. This unorthodox, largely rural livelihood was beholden to the formal requirements of the craft: the making, storage, and firing of ceramic wares. The medium itself was ill-suited to an urban setting: strict fire codes made kilns illegal in most cities. Pottery’s emphasis on self-sufficient rural living offered proto-feminist women the opportunity to live and teach in cooperative, experimental, and self-initiated communities.