Contemporary American Ceramics

From the Dean Thompson Collection

The interests of contemporary artists working in clay are as diverse as those of painters, sculptors, metalsmiths and photographers. And in the past decade, critics, curators and collectors have focused much greater attention upon the unique qualities of this medium. Dean Thompson’s collection features pieces by many of the most influential and innovative contemporary ceramic artists.

Thompson began his collecting career almost 30 years ago with purchases of 19th-century Art Nouveau glass. By the late 1970s, he had largely divested himself of these works and had begun collecting ceramic and glass pieces produced between 1900 and 1940. This phase of Thompson’s collecting history included fine examples by such artists as Almeric Walter, Clarice Cliff and Rene Lalique.

Although he was not trained in art or art history, Thompson, through museum visits, reading and friendships with other collectors, had developed a keen eye for art. He also developed a profound respect for certain art dealers, individuals who generously shared their time and expertise and who helped him refine his own sensibility. He frequented galleries, flea markets and auction houses throughout Europe in search of coveted works.

With his retirement from Amoco Corporation in 1986 and his subsequent relocation from London to Kansas City, Dean Thompson enrolled in a ceramics course at the Kansas City Art Institute. Initially, he hoped only to become more familiar with technical processes and terms. Within weeks, however, he was happily ensconced in the ceramics department, oftentimes spending five hours a day in the studio. Thompson quickly became an enthusiastic advocate of the works of the institute faculty, alumni and students. He also began to purchase their works.

Thompson sent to auction the early 20th-century works that formed his “current” collection and began to seek out major pieces by contemporary ceramic artists. According to Bruce Hartman, director of the Gallery of Art, “Thompson’s collection captures the diversity, energy and conceptual concerns of late 20th-century artists working in clay.” While Thompson’s collection focuses on vessel-oriented pieces, it also contains major sculptural works. Hartman also states, “In addition to his role as a patron of numerous artists, Thompson has assembled a collection that is an important resource for the entire community.”

In conjunction with the Thompson collection, the Gallery will feature recent ceramic acquisitions to the college’s permanent collection. Major works have recently entered the collection through donations and purchases.

Victor Babu was born in 1936 in Albania and grew up in New York. He earned a BFA and an MFA from New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, and taught at KCAI for over 30 years.

Rob Barnard was born in 1949 in Lexington, Kentucky. He studied at the Kyoto City University of the Fine Arts, and in 1978 he received a crafts fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thom Bohnert was born in 1948 in St. Louis, Missouri. He received a BAA from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Frank Boyden was born in 1942 and graduated from Colorado College. From there he went to Yale University where he earned an MFA in painting.

Los-Angeles-based artist Roseline Delisle was born in Quebec in 1953. She studied at the Institute of the Applied Arts in Montreal, Canada.

Born in 1933 in Toledo, Ohio, Richard Devore graduated with a BEd in 1955 from the University of Toledo, and an MFA in 1957 from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he taught for many years as head of the ceramics department.

Ken Ferguson was born in 1928 in Elwood, Indiana, and studied at the American Academy of Art, Chicago. He earned a BFA in 1952 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and an MFA in 1954 from Alfred University, New York. Ferguson became head of the Kansas City Art Institute ceramics department in 1964.

Viola Frey was born in 1933 in Lodi, California. She studied at Stockton Delta College, California, and in 1956 she graduated with a BFA from California College of Art and Crafts, Oakland, and in 1958 she received an MFA from Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Chris Gustin was born in 1952 and received his BFA degree from KCAI and his master’s from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred, New York. 

Now based in Omaha, Nebraska, Jun Kaneko was born in Japan in 1942 and studied in the 1960s at the Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, and at the University of California, Berkeley. Kaneko received an MFA from the Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, California, in 1970.

Jim Leedy was born in 1930 in McRoberts, Kentucky, and now lives and works in Kansas City and Lake Lotawana, Missouri. He earned a BFA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of William and Mary, New York, an MA in art history from Michigan State University and an MFA from Southern Illinois University, and also studied at the postgraduate level at Columbia University and Ohio State University.

Mark Pharis was born in Minneapolis in 1947. Pharis studied art at the University of Minnesota until 1971. In 1985 he returned as a faculty member and from 1998 to 2004 he was chair of the ceramics department.

Born in 1935, Ken Price earned a BFA from the University of Southern California and his MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1959.

California artist Adrian Saxe was born in 1943 in Glendale. He studied at the Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, from 1965-1969 and earned a BFA in 1974 at the California Institute of Arts, Valencia.

Toshiko Takaezu was born in 1922 in Pepeekeo, Hawaii. Takaezu studied at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the University of Hawaii and the Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Japanese-American artist Akio Takamori was born in 1950 in Nabeoka, Miyazaki, and studied at the Musashino Art College in Tokyo. He moved to the United States and attended the KCAI where he earned a BFA in 1976. He then went to the New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, and obtained his MFA in 1978.

Robert Turner was born in 1913 in Port Washington, New York. Turner attended Swarthmore College, earning a BA in economics in 1936, and he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to study painting. In 1949 he graduated with an MFA from Alfred University's School of Art & Design, where he taught for many years. Swarthmore College awarded Turner an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1987.

Born in 1924, Peter Voulkos earned an MFA in 1952 from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, and in 1951 he received a Bachelor of Science degree in applied art from Montana State College, Bozeman.

Beatrice Wood was born in 1893 in San Francisco, and after studying painting at the Académie Julian in Paris, she returned to New York City. Wood relocated to California and took pottery classes in the adult education department of Hollywood High School and the University of Southern California.

Betty Woodman was born in 1930 in Norwalk, Connecticut. Woodman studied at the New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University from 1948-1950. The JCCC Gallery of Art hosted a solo exhibition of Woodman’s sculptural vessels in 1991.