The California pottery movement comes in waves. A myriad of influences dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, including Spanish settlers’ penchant for using colorful tiles in their architecture, the Mexican culture’s masterful expressions using red clay, and the Chinese art of delicate porcelain. All of these cultures brought traditional crafts to the Golden State.
Statehood in 1848 spurred immigration, population growth, and a building boom that created a demand for tile and tableware. From the 1930s through 1960s, California pottery brands such as J.A. Bauer, Vernon Kilns, and Heath Ceramics became coveted household names throughout the US. Pasadena companies included Bevan Kilns and Flintridge China Company.
Although consumer appetite for ceramics waxed and waned over the decades, a new day dawned after World War II, when the school of ceramic art known as “California clay” launched notable talents who innovated the medium and changed popular perception. What was once considered a simplistic handicraft began to be seen as art. A towering figure in that scene was Peter Voulkos, an abstract artist, sculptor, and ceramist who challenged norms with his large-scale works. He founded the Ceramic Center at the Los Angeles County Art Institute, now Otis College of Art and Design. Nancy Selvin, Stan Bitters, and Michael Frimkess—all students of Voulkos—became major artists in their own right.
Keeping with tradition, contemporary ceramists throughout L.A. and Pasadena continue to break boundaries with a breadth of inspiring work that you can appreciate in haute interiors showrooms, fine art galleries, hip hotels, or your kitchen table. Here are four artists dominating a kiln near you.
Victoria Morris Pottery
The Los Angeles native’s breezy, minimalist forms conjure raw earth, salt air, and clean white light in silhouettes that balance form and function. Created in her light-filled Altadena studio, her lamps, vessels, and bowls are as much a vibe as they are material things. Morris’ 25-year career in the craft continues to influence a generation of California ceramic artists. victoriamorrispottery.com
Jonathan Cross Studio
Trained as a printmaker, Cross never intended to become a ceramist. In 2006 a trip to Huntington Library—particularly time spent in its renowned Desert Garden—ignited a love affair with cacti and succulents. This inspired Cross to begin making his own clay planters that leaned more into the realm of abstract sculpture than your average pot. He utilizes a variety of clays (many of which he digs himself) as well as a multitude of firing techniques, resulting in captivating pieces that teeter between archeological find, artifact, and futuristic new stone age. jonathancrossstudio.com
Sunja Park Ceramics
It’s easy to become mesmerized by the organic shapes and color palettes of Park’s vessels, stools, planters, and bowls. Influenced by midcentury design, her work is as comfortable holding court in a coveted Schindler or Lautner home as it is at a backyard garden party. Her humble, groovy showpieces blur the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and artisanal craft. sunjapark.com
BZIPPY and Company
Since launching her business in 2008, Bari Ziperstein’s rise as a fine artist, activist, creative director, and CEO has resulted in her being one of the most talked about ceramists in Los Angeles. Just saying her company’s name brings dancing images of instantly recognizable pieces from her pop-color imaginarium of furnishings, vases, tiles, and whimsical tableware, all of which follow her limitless obsession with technique and materials, engineering solutions, shapes and glazes, and business models that empower women. bzippyandcompany.com