Friday, September 6, 2013

How did the Pottery Show & Sale come to be?

There are many shows like it around the country and around the world, but the Art School’s Pottery Show & Sale is acknowledged as a forerunner of shows of its kind. What makes this one so special?  Surely, success is due in part to the discerning eye of Karen Karnes, internationally renowned ceramic artist and the show’s curator since its inception in 1974. 

As a friend of the school's co-founder and fellow master potter Mikhail Zakin, Karen Karnes stepped up as curator of the fundraiser show due to her acknowledged authority in the medium.  By selecting ceramic artisans for the high caliber of their craft and innovation and placing them in direct contact with pottery enthusiasts and collectors, this once yearly honey-pot of ceramic artistry became valuable for connecting passionate and knowledgeable buyers to American artisans at the height of their craft.

While the show continues to be crucial to the economic landscape of the non-profit art school it supports, it also set a standard for shows of its kind.  The show is almost entirely staffed by volunteers from the community who donate their time and energy and even welcome potters into their homes and share meals for the long-weekend of the sale.  Here are some words from the show’s curator on how our Pottery Show & Sale came to be:

“Thirty-nine years ago when Ann and I offered to make a benefit pottery sale for the Art School at Old Church we were following the path of many organizations choosing to raise money in this way.  I thought to make an event that would consider the potters who offered their work.  Potters would only need to both bring and remove their work at the end – we would set it up and sell it and send payment for work sold within the first week after the conclusion of the sale.

In the early years I invited potters who lived nearby, but soon I was attending craft fairs to choose potters, and my attention was always aware as I traveled, looking for pottery that would make up a rich and varied exhibition, one that showed a wide range of styles.  I have always wanted each person who attended the show to see something they needed to own, and to have all the work be the best of its kind.  Soon potter friends were able to recommend new clay workers.

It was also important to make an exciting potters’ meeting, as I lured them from far away with the promise of a bed in a member volunteer’s home, a delicious potters’ supper (which I cooked in the early years), and the possibility of a day or two in New York City.

…I have a policy of inviting new potters every year, though there is also a core group who is invited every year as well.  It is always a difficult choice; there are so many excellent, sensitive and original young potters at work now, for the field is steadily widening.”

Join us as we welcome this year’s group of contemporary potters through a series of short articles and luscious images of their cutting-edge ceramic work.
A collection of pots by Karen Karnes, ca. 1950s
A collection of pots by Karen Karnes, ca. 1950s (Image courtesy of American Craft Council Library at

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