Merry Abbitt Outlaw
New Discoveries - Introduction

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,
Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

Wallace Stevens, “The Planet on the Table”

The great twentieth-century American poet Wallace Stevens wrote those lines about poetry, but they could easily speak to the ceramics discussed in this year’s New Discoveries. In this issue we learn of several survivors from our past and why they endured. Their importance lies in what they tell us of their worlds.

Al Luckenbach, Susan Tunick and Jay Shockley, and Bly Straube write about architectural ceramics dating from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. From them we learn about decorative two-dimensional tiles made for interior spaces, as well as elaborate, relief-molded terracotta elements manufactured for building exteriors. All are rare witnesses to America’s architectural past and testify to the role of clay in providing both embellishment and structural support.

Kathryn Boxhorn, Rob Hunter and Hank Lutton, John Kille, and Ron Napier report on utilitarian ceramic survivors that represent the widely varied tastes and values of nineteenth-century Americans. Why did these containers—among them an archaeological example, a stoneware bottle already of considerable age when it was left behind in a Civil War hut—remain intact for so long? Was it to do with the type of ware, or the shape, or perhaps even the inscription? All of these vessels are marked in some way, and their markings reveal much about the worlds from which they came.

Two contemporary American clay artists are also represented this year. Warren Bakley and Gerald Thiebolt have been working with clay for many years as associates in a San Diego clay studio. Strongly influenced by their backgrounds in design and architecture, their unique works are created to enhance interior and exterior spaces. Unlike the architectural examples from our past, their ceramics speak to us of the now.  But in times to come, it is hoped that their sensibilities will continue to speak “of the planet of which they were part.”

Ceramics in America 2006