Posted by Joshua Green, Executive Director
The potter who finds life in his work finds it daily in small glimpses, and perhaps these are the successes as much as anything. For example, shapes evolve guided by forces apparently outside my control. This is instinct, intellect and openness to change fusing, into what I think is the most positive force behind any potter’s approach: evolution or growth. Some call it inspiration. ~ John Glick
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1938, John Glick earned his B.F.A. from Wayne State University (1960), studying under William Pitney, and his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1962), working with Maija Grotell. A legendary and influential teacher, Grotell was noted for her deep interest in the human connection to nature’s rhythms and patterns. These ideas often grounded her dialog with her students including Glick, affecting a profound and lasting influence on his future work. Ideas contained within Glick’s thesis, which was concerned with the interaction of maker and user in functional pottery, continued to inform his studio practice over the next fifty years.
The two years following his departure from Cranbrook were spent in the U.S. Army. Stationed in West Germany near the Westerwald district, a region well-known for salt-glazed pottery, Glick often visited with and studied German potters in their studios. Upon separating from the military, Glick returned to Michigan, to establish a studio and began to work full-time as a potter. In 1965, he opened Plum Tree Pottery in Farmington, Michigan, where he ultimately built three kilns: a 60-cubic-foot catenary arch, a 27-cubic-foot catenary arch, and a 50-cubic-foot sprung-arch cross-draft. Glick began to produce dinnerware, and orders gradually became more consistent. All the while, Glick remained steadfastly committed to creative evolution, guiding his clients toward newer ideas rather than continuing the work he had done in the past.
Over time, he was able to build a substantial portion of his studio practice around the creation of one-of-a-kind settings. This approach struck a sympathetic balance that blended his urge for constant innovation within the utilitarian potter’s commitment to production. Cultivating and sustaining relationships with client-collectors was central to an approach of this nature. Glick’s settings ultimately explored a wide range of form and decoration that combined the user’s decision making with Glick’s personal vision of a set as a varied visual eco-system. In 1979, Glick was commissioned to produce a set of dinnerware for then Vice-President Mondale’s mansion. Consisting of 16 place settings with six elements to each setting, Glick also produced a technical instruction set for the team whose role would include handling the wares and setting the table.
While traditional academic structures have played an important part in the development of American studio pottery, Glick developed an alternative route to sustaining creative regeneration. All innovation entails cognitive transformations that are contingent on active communities of practice. Central to the formation of community in Glick’s life and work were the roles of assistants and his agility as a mentor. Together, they catalyzed the material productivity of the pottery and generated dialog on both creative and practical concerns of the potter’s work. As assistants became more immersed in the work cycle, they sometimes developed substantial portions of vessel production allowing Glick more time to focus on design, decoration, and innovation of processes.
Glick took influences from master potters of Japan, notably Shoji Hamada and Kanjrio Kawai, blending their gestural embellishments of simple forms with attitudes of Abstract Expressionism. He was particularly drawn to the work of Helen Frankenthaler whose soak-stain style resonated with Glick’s multi-layered glaze surfaces, which juxtaposed veils of atmospheric color with gestural marks and pattern. He spent countless hours developing and making his own tools in order to achieve previously unseen results in his work with clay and glaze. Elenor Wilson, Editor of The Studio Potter, worked with Glick in 2006. She shares, “One of the most important values I inherited from John is that of good tools. He spent a great deal of time in his ‘tool shop’ customizing this rib, that brush, fashioning a new extruder die, or adding wheels or hinges to something to improve ergonomics. John considered the knowledge, attitudes, and wisdom passed to him by his teachers to be tools. And, in fact, his pots are tools. Tools for eating, drinking, contemplating; for looking, for learning, for enjoying life.”
Glick’s work was nationally and internationally exhibited. Notable exhibitions include Craft in America: Expanding Traditions, a national invitational touring exhibition that visited eight cities in two years. A retrospective exhibition opened at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Spring 2016. His work is held in numerous collections, both public and private, including The Mint Museum, The American Craft Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Renwick Gallery, and the Museum of Art in Yixing, P.R. China. He was also the recipient of several prestigious awards, among them two individual artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and election as an American Craft Council Fellow.
You could say I am hopelessly in love with bits and pieces of the making of pots…