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The Clay Studio

Fellowship in Clay: Philadelphia's American Craft Council Fellows

William Daley, Rudolf Staffel, Paula Winokur & Robert Winokur

October 2 through November 29, 2015

This exhibition will celebrate four of the most influential ceramic artists working in Philadelphia in the last 65 years. Rudolf Staffel and William Daley represent the first generation of the Contemporary Studio Craft Movement that exploded onto the art scene in the late 1940’s at the end of World War II. Paula Winokur and Robert Winokur were part of the second wave; they were among the first students of the origin generation. These four artists have not only developed successful, unique bodies of work during their long careers, but each were leaders of the most important university ceramics programs in the region. Staffel was among the original professors at Tyler School of Art, and he later handed the program over to Robert Winokur, one of his protégés. William Daley was a major force in both the Industrial Design and the Ceramics department at Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts). Paula Winokur, a student of Staffel’s, not only led the ceramics program at Beaver College (Arcadia University), but was a pioneer as a woman breaking into the overwhelmingly male field of ceramic educators in the 1970s. Together, these ceramic arts educators shaped a huge percentage of the college ceramics students in Philadelphia for most of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Their skills as educators are proven by the scores of artists who speak reverently of their time spent as their students. The Clay Studio community alone has many adoring former students of these four.


Outside of the huge impact they have had on the landscape of ceramic education in Philadelphia, Daley, Staffel and the Winokurs have each garnered national and international  attention for their own artwork. With the passing of Rudolf Staffel in 2002, his career can be summarized as it stands, as a revolutionary in his daring new ways to use porcelain. 


Rudolf Staffel is best known for his groundbreaking work with unglazed porcelain and is often credited with inspiring the wider use of porcelain among studio potters. He called the vessels Light Gatherers, a title that highlights Staffel’s interest in light as a primary artistic subject. From his first discovery of porcelain as a light conductor, he experimented for the rest of his life, pushing the medium in a quest for the perfect texture and malleability. Working with the same material for four decades resulted not in repetition, but in continued experimentation with forms that are endlessly surprising, nuanced and varied. 


Daley and the Winokurs are of course still making new work, and expanding their visual vocabularies. Even as they continue to evolve, each has a distinct and meaningful body of work that remains true to their unique conceptual underpinnings. 


The monumental stoneware vessels of William Daley are complex. He creates them using combinations of carved forms he has amassed over the years. Like Staffel, Daley has always pushed the boundaries of his material, experimenting to find the perfect clay body and the most effective method to create his large scale vessels. His work seems at once to be ephemeral and as old as the cosmos.  He explores the geometry of ancient architecture, symbology, and the joy of possibilities.  Daley himself contains multitudes: he is spiritual and even spritely, while being deeply grounded in the earth, calling himself a Mud Man. Daley is a master of forming clay skillfully, infusing his forms with meaning and developing new techniques to achieve his vision. These characteristics are quintessential to the Contemporary Studio Craft Movement from 1946 to the present and the reason William Daley is an exemplar of the Movement.


Known for her hand-built porcelain sculpture, Paula Winokur’s work reflects her strong interest in geological formations such as cliffs, ledges, crevices and canyons. More importantly her work suggests the passage of time and its effect on these types of structures, whether caused by water, wind, earthquakes or other natural phenomena. Her choice of porcelain echoes the subject matter of her work. Winokur states, “I have chosen to work with this clay because it has allowed me to explore issues in the landscape without necessarily making literal interpretations. It can be minimal and sometimes surreal in its starkness.”[1] Becoming more politically motivated over the years, Paula Winokur’s recent work reflects her concern about climate change and the effects of human activity on the environment. Her glaciers are melting and churning; she shows us ice cores with their dwindling volumes. The peaceful white forms reveal the disturbing reality of earth’s changing surface.


For Robert Winokur, as for many craft artists, the materials he uses serve as a defining characteristic in the meaning of his work. Themes that repeat throughout his career are houses, trees, vegetables, flying machines and landscapes. He often uses Pennsylvania Brick Clay, a material he calls out, it seems, to reiterate the importance of home in his work. The house form is one of the most common in his body of work, but he explores the shape of a house in so many ways that the viewer is guaranteed a surprise around every corner and through each doorway.   Houses are used to support biblical stories, fairy tales, and sometimes contain or are supported by gardens of vegetables. The prototypical house shape, a square with a triangle on top, is also abstracted; they are stretched, toppled, stacked, or looked at from an aerial point of view. 


Fellowship in Clay will also be honoring Helen W. Drutt English, Honorary Member of the College of Fellows, by sharing some of the rich materials from her extensive archive. Her role in the Studio Craft Movement in Philadelphia and worldwide deserves a great deal of attention and praise. Her hard work on behalf of the artists working in craft media in Philadelphia helped make the city become a major center of the renaissance of craft arts from the late 1960s until today. She was a founding member of the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen (PCPC) and founded the Helen Drutt Gallery, one of the first galleries in the country dedicated to Contemporary Craft, in 1973.


The exhibition will be on view in conjunction with Craft NOW Philadelphia, a recently formed consortium of institutions focused on raising the profile of the craft arts in Philadelphia. The American Craft Council, founding in 1943 By Aileen Osborn Webb to promote the work of artists working in craft media, elects members to its prestigious College of Fellows each year. Philadelphia artists have been given this honor in numbers greater than most other cities in the US. A rich history of craft arts exists in this area, from the earliest inhabitants, through the European colonial period, to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, and up to today.  The spirit of tradition, skill, creativity and innovation infuse the 18th century cobblestones that surround The Clay Studio in its Old City home. This exhibition is a chance to link these important Philadelphia clay artists with the new generations of artists working in The Clay Studio and across our amazing artistic city of Philadelphia. 

This exhibition is made possible by a grant from The Windgate Foundation.

Please contact curator Jennifer Zwilling with any purchase inquiries at jzwilling@theclaystudio.org or 215-925-3453 x18.

For more information see: https://craftnowphila.org/exhibitions/fellowship-in-clay-philadelphias-american-craft-council-fellows/