Fellowship in Clay: Philadelphia's American Craft Council Fellows

Oct 2nd - Nov 29th, 2015


This exhibition celebrated 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 ContemporaryStudio 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 duringtheir long careers, but each were leaders of the most important university ceramicsprograms in the region. Staffel was among the original professors at TylerSchool of Art, and he later handed the program over to Robert Winokur, one ofhis protégés. William Daley was a major force in both the IndustrialDesign and the Ceramics department at Philadelphia College of Art (Universityof the Arts). Paula Winokur, a student of Staffel’s, not only led theceramics program at Beaver College (Arcadia University), but was a pioneer as awoman breaking into the overwhelmingly male field of ceramic educators in the1970s. Together, these ceramic arts educators shaped a huge percentage ofthe college ceramics students in Philadelphia for most of the second half ofthe Twentieth Century. Their skills as educators are proven by the scores ofartists who speak reverently of their time spent as their students. TheClay Studio community alone has many adoring former students of these four.


Outside of the huge impact they have had on thelandscape of ceramic education in Philadelphia, Daley, Staffel and the Winokurshave each garnered national and international  attention for their ownartwork. With the passing of Rudolf Staffel in 2002, his career can besummarized as it stands, as a revolutionary in his daring new ways to useporcelain. 


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


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


The monumental stoneware vessels of WilliamDaley are complex. He creates them using combinations of carved forms hehas amassed over the years. Like Staffel, Daley has always pushed theboundaries of his material, experimenting to find the perfect clay body and themost effective method to create his large scale vessels. His work seems atonce to be ephemeral and as old as the cosmos.  He explores the geometryof ancient architecture, symbology, and the joy of possibilities.  Daleyhimself contains multitudes: he is spiritual and even spritely, while beingdeeply grounded in the earth, calling himself a Mud Man. Daley is a master offorming clay skillfully, infusing his forms with meaning and developing new techniquesto achieve his vision. These characteristics are quintessential to theContemporary Studio Craft Movement from 1946 to the present and the reasonWilliam Daley is an exemplar of the Movement.


Known for her hand-built porcelain sculpture, PaulaWinokur’s work reflects her strong interest in geological formations suchas cliffs, ledges, crevices and canyons. More importantly her worksuggests the passage of time and its effect on these types of structures, whether caused by water, wind, earthquakes or other natural phenomena. Herchoice of porcelain echoes the subject matter of her work. Winokur states, “Ihave chosen to work with this clay because it has allowed me to explore issuesin the landscape without necessarily making literal interpretations. It can beminimal and sometimes surreal in its starkness.”[1] Becoming more politically motivatedover the years, Paula Winokur’s recent work reflects her concern about climatechange and the effects of human activity on the environment. Her glaciersare melting and churning; she shows us ice cores with their dwindlingvolumes. The peaceful white forms reveal the disturbing reality of earth’schanging surface.


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


Fellowship in Clay willalso be honoring Helen W. Drutt English, Honorary Member of the College ofFellows, by sharing some of the rich materials from her extensivearchive. Her role in the Studio Craft Movement in Philadelphia andworldwide deserves a great deal of attention and praise. Her hard work onbehalf of the artists working in craft media in Philadelphia helped make thecity become a major center of the renaissance of craft arts from the late 1960suntil today. She was a founding member of the Philadelphia Council ofProfessional Craftsmen (PCPC) and founded the Helen Drutt Gallery, one of thefirst galleries in the country dedicated to Contemporary Craft, in 1973.


The exhibition will be on view in conjunction withCraft NOW Philadelphia, a recently formed consortium of institutions focused onraising the profile of the craft arts in Philadelphia. The American CraftCouncil, founding in 1943 By Aileen Osborn Webb to promote the work of artistsworking in craft media, elects members to its prestigious College of Fellowseach year. Philadelphia artists have been given this honor in numbers greaterthan most other cities in the US. A rich history of craft arts exists inthis area, from the earliest inhabitants, through the European colonial period, to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, and up to today.  The spirit oftradition, skill, creativity and innovation infuse the 18th centurycobblestones that surround The Clay Studio in its Old City home. Thisexhibition is a chance to link these important Philadelphia clay artists withthe new generations of artists working in The Clay Studio and across ouramazing 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/