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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Covered jar

Photo: Elizabeth Mann

Covered jar

early 1950s

Peter Voulkos

American, 1924-2002

Peter Voulkos (1924-2002), was one of the most influential American artists working in clay in the 20th century. He earned his MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts and together with Rudy Autio became the first resident artists in 1951 at the Archie Bray Foundation, a center for the ceramic arts in Helen, Montana. Voulkos was soon made resident director, serving from 1951-54. In 1952, Japanese ceramic artist Hamada Shōji, philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi, and the British Studio potter, Bernard Leach visited Voulkos at the foundation, the period of time when this Asian-inspired jar was produced. Its simplicity of form and tactile glaze represent Voulkos’s early practice, values also reflected in Hamada Shōji’s work, which is represented in SAM’s collection. Robert Shields, a good friend of Peter Voulkos’ and the donor of this jar, also visited Voulkos in Montana during this period. Two snapshots of Voulkos at the wheel, as well as a postcard that recorded the Japanese delegation’s visit were found inside the jar.

A summer teaching appointment at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, exposed Voulkos to the work of the abstract expressionists. They inspired a tectonic shift in his work, taking clay beyond traditional ceramic forms to an exploration of sculptural mass, weight, space, and scale. Interestingly, Voulkos made some of his most compelling large-scale works in the 90s, when he was already in his seventies, using heaps of clay to form vessels, or “stacks,” measuring some four-foot tall
Robert Shields may have been known as “one of the Grand Old Men in Northwest architecture” (Pacific Northwest Magazine), but it is his enduring passion for art that leaves a lasting legacy at SAM. When Mr Shields passed away in the summer of 2012, he left his entire estate to the Seattle Art Museum, its value to be used in support of the Asian art program.

One of the foremost Northwest architects of the mid-20th century, Mr Shields graduated from the University of Washington with an architecture degree in 1941. After serving in the Navy in WWII, he returned to Seattle and founded the architecture firm Tucker, Shields and Terry in 1946. Over the course of the next 30 years he established a reputation as one of the foremost Northwest architects as he designed homes, commercial spaces, the KIRO-TV headquarters, and Canlis restaurant.

A champion of Northwest art and artists (he counted Zoe Dusanne, Don Foster, Morris Graves, and Kenneth Callahan among his friends), Mr Shields was also passionate about Asian and Native American art, as well as European decorative arts; and he collected in all of these areas. He was a member of the museum’s Asian Art Council, the Seattle Clay Club, and the Puget Sound Bonsai Society. In honor of the opening of SAM Downtown in 1991, he donated several Japanese objects and a Morris Graves painting to the collection.

13 3/4 × 8 1/2in. (34.9 × 21.6cm)
Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields
Photo: Elizabeth Mann
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, Dec. 14, 2019 - Nov. 8, 2020.
Published ReferencesDelson, Susan. "The Intimite Beauty of Honest Craft." Wall Street Journal, November 30 - December 1, 2019: p. C14, reproduced. [A version of this article appears online on November 27, 2019:]

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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