Peter Voulkos

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Peter Voulkos
Voulkos 1996.jpg
Peter Voulkos works on a stack, 1996
BornPanagiotis Voulkos
(1924-01-29)January 29, 1924
Bozeman, Montana
DiedFebruary 16, 2002(2002-02-16) (aged 78)
Bowling Green, Ohio
EducationMontana State University, California College of the Arts
Known forCeramic art, Sculpture
MovementAbstract expressionist
Peter Voulkos, Noodle. stoneware sculpture, 1996, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Peter Voulkos (popular name of Panagiotis Voulkos; January 29, 1924 – February 16, 2002) was an American artist of Greek descent. He is known for his abstract expressionist ceramic sculptures,[1][2] which crossed the traditional divide between ceramic crafts and fine art.[3] 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.


He was born as Panagiotis Harry Voulkos,[4] the third of five children to Greek immigrant parents,[3] Aristovoulos I. Voulkopoulos, anglicized and shortened to Harry (Aris) John Voulkos and Effrosyni (Efrosine) Peter Voulalas, in Bozeman, Montana.

After serving in the United States Army during the Second World War, Voulkos studied painting and printmaking at Montana State College, in Bozeman (now Montana State University). There he was introduced to ceramics,[3] and Frances Senska, who established the ceramic arts program, was his teacher.[5][6] He earned his MFA in ceramics from California College of the Arts and Crafts, in Oakland, California. Afterwards he returned to Bozeman, and began his career in a pottery business with classmate Rudy Autio, producing functional dinnerware.[3]

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 there (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.

In 1953, Voulkos was invited to teach a summer session ceramics course at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina.[4][7] 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.[7]

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.

He moved to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959, where he also founded the ceramics program, within the department of design and decorative arts.[8] He became a full professor there in 1967,[8] and continued to teach until 1985.[9] Among his students were many ceramic artists who became well known in their own right.


He died of a heart attack on February 16, 2002,[3] after conducting a college ceramics workshop at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, demonstrating his skill to a live audience.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Voulkos is survived by his first wife, Margaret Cone, and their daughter, Pier, polymer clay artist;[11] his wife, Ann, and their son, Aris; and his brother and two sisters.[3]


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

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. In 1979 he was introduced to the use of wood firing in anagama kilns by Peter Callas, who became his collaborator 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.

Among the public collections holding work by Peter Voulkos are the American Museum of Ceramic Art (Pomona, California), di Rosa (Napa, CA),[12] the Honolulu Museum of Art,[13] the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum (Tokyo), the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection (Albany, NY)[14], the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, the Oakland Museum of California, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC), the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the University of Iowa Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.,[9] Palm Springs Art Museum, (Palm Springs, California), and the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Untitled (Stack) by Peter Voulkos" (February 1, 2012). De Young Museum. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  2. ^ "Peter Voulkos". Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA). Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Smith, Roberta (February 21, 2002). "Peter Voulkos, 78, A Master of Expressive Ceramics, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  4. ^ 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.
  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 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.
  8. ^ a b Savitt, Scott (February 27, 2002)."Peter Voulkos, ceramics artist". The Berkeleyan. Office of Public Affairs, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  9. ^ a b Hartman, Robert; Kasten, Karl; Melchert, James; Wall, Brian (2002). "In Memoriam: Peter Voulkos". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2017-10-02.
  10. ^ "Peter Voulkos, 78; Reinvented Ceramics" (February 17, 2002). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  11. ^ "Pier Voulkos Archived 2017-01-03 at the Wayback Machine.". Museum of Arts and Design. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  12. ^ "Based on a True Story: Highlights from the di Rosa Collection, October 26, 2016 - May 28, 2017". Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  13. ^ "American Array". Honolulu Museum of Art. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  14. ^ "Empire State Plaza Art Collection".


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). 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.

External links[edit]