Peter Voulkos

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Peter Voulkos
Voulkos 1996.jpg
Peter Voulkos works on a stack, 1996
Panagiotis Voulkos

(1924-01-29)January 29, 1924
DiedFebruary 16, 2002(2002-02-16) (aged 78)
Known forCeramic art, Sculpture
MovementAbstract expressionist

Peter Voulkos (born Panagiotis Harry Voulkos; 29 January 1924 – 16 February 2002) was an American artist of Greek descent. He is known for his abstract expressionist ceramic sculptures,[1] which crossed the traditional divide between ceramic crafts and fine art. He established the ceramics department at the Los Angeles County Art Institute and at UC Berkeley.[2]


Peter Voulkos and Peter Callas working on a 1998 Stack in Belvidere, NJ.
John Balistreri assisting Peter Voulkos.

Early life[edit]

Peter Voulkos was born the third of five children to Greek immigrant parents, Aristovoulos I. Voulkopoulos, anglicized and shortened to Harry (Aris) John Voulkos and Effrosyni (Efrosine) Peter Voulalas.[2][3]

After high school, he worked as a molder's apprentice at a ship's foundry in Portland. In 1943, Peter Voulkos was drafted into the United States Army during the Second World War, serving as an airplane gunner in the Pacific.[2][4]

Ceramics' specialization[edit]

Voulkos studied painting and printmaking at Montana State College, in Bozeman (now Montana State University), where he was introduced to ceramics[2] (Frances Senska, who established the ceramics arts program, was his teacher).[5][6] Ceramics quickly became a passion. His 25 pounds of clay allowed by semester by the school was not enough, so he managed to spot a source of quality clay from the tires of the trucks that would stop by the restaurant where he worked part-time.[2]

He earned his MFA in ceramics from California College of the Arts and Crafts, in Oakland. Afterwards, he returned to Bozeman, and began his career in a pottery business with classmate Rudy Autio, producing functional dinnerware.[2]

In 1951 Voulkos and Autio became the first resident artists at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, in Helena, Montana. It is from his time as Resident Director (1951-1954) that the lineage of his mature work, later in full bloom during his tenure at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California, can be traced.[7]

In 1953, Voulkos was invited to teach a summer session ceramics course at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina.[3][8] After the summer at Black Mountain, he changed his approach to creating ceramics. The artist eschewed his traditional training and instead of creating smooth, well-thrown glazed vessels he started to work gesturally with raw clay, frequently marring his work with gashes and punctures.[8]

In 1954, after founding the art ceramics department at the Otis College of Art and Design, called the Los Angeles County Art Institute, his work rapidly became abstract and sculptural.[4] In 1959, he presented for the first time his heavy ceramics during the exhibition at the Landau Gallery in Los Angeles. This created a seismic reaction in the ceramics world, both for the grotesquerie of the sculptures' shapes and the genius marriage of arts and craft, and accelerated his transfer to UC Berkeley.[2]

UC Berkeley's ceramics department[edit]

He moved to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959, where he also founded the ceramics program, which grew into the Department of Design.[7][9] In the early 1960s, he set up a bronze foundry off-campus, anticipating the metal cast Wurster Hall, and started exhibiting his work at NY's Museum of Modern Art.[7]

He became a full professor there in 1967,[9] and continued to teach until 1985.[10] Among his students were many ceramic artists who became well known in their own right.

At a New York auction in 2001, a 1986 sculpture by Peter Voulkos was sold $72,625 to a European museum.[4]

He died of a heart attack on February 16, 2002,[2] after conducting a college ceramics workshop at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, demonstrating his skill to a live audience.[11]


Peter Voulkos, Noodle. stoneware sculpture, 1996, Metropolitan Museum of Art


While his early work was fired in electric and gas kilns, later in his career he primarily fired in the anagama kiln of Peter Callas, who had helped to introduce Japanese wood-firing aesthetics in the United States. Peter Voulkos is also among those who raised ceramics to the non-utilitarian, aesthetic sphere. While setting up the ceramics department at UC Berkeley, his students were authorized to make a teapot, "only if it didn't work". Voulkos started this new trend while in Los Angeles in the 1950s, saying, "there was a certain energy around L.A. at the time".[12] He is most commonly identified as an Abstract Expressionist ceramist.[2]

Voulkos's sculptures are known for their visual weight, their freely-formed construction, and their aggressive and energetic decoration. During shaping, he would vigorously tear, pound, and gouge their surfaces. At some points in his career, he cast sculptures in bronze; and in early periods his ceramic works were glazed or painted and/or finished with painted brushstrokes.

Peter Voulkos is also memorable for the live ceramics-sculpting sessions he would lead in front of his students, demonstrating his intense and even unforgiving manner of working with the material, while simultaneously showcasing his refined mastery of the nuances of the craft.[4][2] His creativity quest sometimes led to the use of commercial dough-mixing machines to mix the clay, and the development of a prototype for an electric potter's wheel.[2]

In 1979 he was introduced to the use of wood firing in anagama kilns by Peter Callas, who became a close collaborator of his for the next 23 years. Most of Voulkos's late work was wood-fired in Callas's anagama, which was located at first in Piermont, New York, and later, in Belvidere, New Jersey. This unique partnership and the resulting work is considered by many curators and collectors to be the most exuberant period of Voulkos's career[citation needed].


Public collections[edit]


Personal life[edit]

Voulkos is survived by his first wife, Margaret Cone, and their daughter, Pier, a polymer clay artist;[29] his wife, Ann, and their son, Aris; and his brother and two sisters.[2]

In the early 1980s, Peter Voulkos went to rehab to deal with alcohol and cocaine addiction.[4][2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Peter Voulkos". Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA). Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Roberta Smith (February 21, 2002). "Peter Voulkos, 78, A Master of Expressive Ceramics, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  3. ^ a b Selz, Peter (June 2002). "In Memoriam: Peter Voulkos". California Alumni Association, Berkeley. Archived from the original on June 1, 2008. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h John Wildermuth, Peter Voulkos, Oakland sculptor / 'He was the best -- he was the king,' and a revolutionary, too,, 19 February 2002
  5. ^ "Frances Senska, 1914–2009" (Summer 2010). Newsletter of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. p. 1. PDF available online. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  6. ^ "Frances Senska - Art All The Time". Montana PBS. March 21, 1997. Archived from the original on March 30, 2012. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  7. ^ a b c Hartman, Robert; Kasten, Karl; Melchert, James; Wall, Brian (2002). "In Memoriam: Peter Voulkos". University of California, Berkeley.
  8. ^ a b Sorkin, Jenni (2015). "Peter Voulkos: Rocking Pot". Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 272. ISBN 9780300211917.
  9. ^ a b Savitt, Scott (February 27, 2002). "Peter Voulkos, Ceramics artist". The Berkeleyan online. Office of Public Affairs, University of California, Berkeley.
  10. ^ a b Hartman, Robert; Kasten, Karl; Melchert, James; Wall, Brian (2002). "In Memoriam: Peter Voulkos". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2017-10-02.
  11. ^ "Peter Voulkos, 78; Reinvented Ceramics" (February 17, 2002). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  12. ^ And then came Funk,, 1 August 2009
  13. ^ "Black Butte Divide". Norton Simon Museum. 2022. Retrieved October 6, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "Black Divide - Butte (1958) by Peter Voulkos". Public Art in Public Places. September 22, 2022. Retrieved October 6, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Hall of Justice - 1971,
  16. ^ "Untitled (Stack) by Peter Voulkos" (February 1, 2012). De Young Museum. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  17. ^ "Based on a True Story: Highlights from the di Rosa Collection, October 26, 2016 - May 28, 2017". Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  18. ^ "American Array". Honolulu Museum of Art. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  19. ^ "Empire State Plaza Art Collection". Visit the Empire State Plaza & New York State Capitol.
  20. ^ "Artists | NGV".
  21. ^[bare URL]
  22. ^ "The Collection | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
  23. ^ "The Independent Administrative Institution National Museum of Art - Collections".
  24. ^ "Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections : Search Collections".
  25. ^[dead link]
  26. ^ "Container with Cover - Peter Voulkos".
  27. ^ "Peter Voulkos | University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art".
  28. ^ "Untitled Stack Pot".
  29. ^ "Pier Voulkos Archived 2017-01-03 at the Wayback Machine". Museum of Arts and Design. Retrieved 2017-01-02.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rhodes, Daniel (1959). Stoneware and Porcelain: The Art of High-Fired Pottery. Philadelphia: Chilton Book Company, Pennsylvania, 1959.
  • Coplans, John (1966). Abstract Expressionist Ceramics (exhibition catalogue). The University of California, Irvine, 1966.
  • Read, Herbert (1964). A Concise History of Modern Sculpture. New York: Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Beard, Geoffrey (1969). Modern Ceramics London: Studio Vista, United Kingdom, 1969.
  • Fischer, Hal (November 1978). "The Art of Peter Voulkos", Artforum, pp. 41–47.
  • Slivka, Rose (1978). Peter Voulkos: A Dialogue with Clay. New York: New York Graphic Society in association with American Crafts Council.
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1978). Peter Voulkos: A Retrospective 1948-1978. San Francisco, California.
  • Preaud, Tamara and Serge Gauthier (1982). Ceramics of the 20th Century. New York: Rizzoli International.
  • MacNaughton, Mary et al. (1994). Revolution in Clay: The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics. Scripps College, Claremont, California, in association with The University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Slivka, Rose and Karen Tsujimoto (1995). The Art of Peter Voulkos. Kodansha International in collaboration with the Oakland Museum, Oakland, California.
  • Danto, Arthur Coleman and Janet Koplos (1999). Choice from America: Modern American Ceramics. 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands: Het Kruithuis, Museum of Contemporary Art. pp. 9–12, 16-9, 104-7, 133.
  • The American Art Book (1999). London: Phaidon Press Limited. p. 467.
  • Cooper, Emmanuel (2000). Ten Thousand Years of Pottery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Faberman, Hilarie, et al. (2004).Picasso to Thiebaud: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collections of Stanford University Alumni and Friends. Palo Alto, California: Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University.
  • Sorkin, Jenni (2015). "Peter Voulkos: Rocking Pot". Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 272–273. ISBN 9780300211917.

External links[edit]