P.S. has a fabulous modernist 13- by 10-inch pottery vase by Santa Maria potter William “Bill” Shinn.
Was Mr. Shinn’s inspiration for the design of this vase a Native American ceremonial breastplate? The artist himself was an intrepid researcher, taking his backpack and traversing the American desert, as well as Europe, Japan and Russia in search of inspiration.
Mr. Shinn (1932-2011) was an internationally recognized potter and teacher having won awards at international ceramic competitions in Italy, New Zealand and Korea. The Santa Ana native was educated with a masters in ceramic design at UCLA and the Sorbonne and Academie Julian in Paris. To great acclaim as a young artist, he exhibited at the Syracuse Nationals in 1966. The Everson Museum in Syracuse collected his work for their permanent collection.
After the artist died in 2011, many of his former students (Allan Hancock 1962-1988) missed his personal instruction in his own studio in Santa Maria. There he experimented and became a master of ceramic extrusion techniques, using a distinctive machine/tool to aid the creation of three dimensional work.
Die cuts can be created to extrude large hollow forms. In the December 2002 edition of Ceramics Monthly, Mr. Shinn said, “The extruder is an ideal tool for sculpture, both abstract and representational … Dies created specifically for this purpose can produce work that can be easily bent, twisted and joined together.”
Today, dies can be created using 3-D printers. Mr. Shinn combined both extrusion and slab form creations within his unique oeuvre. (If you can imagine forcing clay through a tube, you get the idea; think of forcing clay through a tube with a cookie cutter embedded inside.)
If any reader has attempted to hand roll a coil pot, you would have loved to use an extruder. It creates even and unbroken strings of coils. But the tool can do much more, and Mr. Shinn pushed the boundaries — so much so that seeing one of his teapots in its wild form, the inventor of the extruder ordered a custom pot.
The style puts Mr. Shinn in the annals of the American studio art pottery movement.
A word here about the popularity of the era today. The earthy creative massive forms of the midcentury and the distinctive glazes (sometimes earth tones, sometimes 1960’s vibrant colors) is hot property, especially purchased for mid-century styled homes.
We find not just vessels but ceramic sculpture being important to the American Art Pottery movement, and Mr. Shin was a master of the large scape ceramic sculpture as well as tableware and vases like P.S.’s seen here. I love the look of the vase and I love the way I imagine cut foliage must lie in the vase. Because of the shape, the flowers would also be forced into a fan shape.
Vasefinder Auctions has a listing of a smaller less “designed” vase for $60.00, and in Europe, Ross’s Auction in Belfast sold a complex designed vessel for $350.
Ist Dibs sold a Shinn abstract sculpture for $800.
The artist was represented for years by Judith Hale Gallery Solvang/Santa Ynez.
Currently from a gallery in Pasadena, I find a large ovoid vessel, raise on a round plinth in a deep brown glaze, the shape resembles the human eye (a big feature of 1960s pottery), and at the center of the oval is a patterned round circle incised in deep relief, offered for $825.
One of the great looks of this genre is the anthropomorphic shapes, as well as the borrowing of design motifs from other cultures, especially the Japanese.
How did the artist, who began with panting, find “clay?”
He was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and found “sculpture” in the forms beneath his plane.
An article in the June 9, 2009, issues of the Santa Maria Sun by Shelley Cone quotes Mr. Shinn: “There are a lot of things that suppress being creative. The main motivation for me is creating something I’ve never seen before.”
The writer asked Mr. Shinn about his many awards and many sales and shows, as a possible influence on what he creates in the studio. But we have an answer in Mr. Shinn’s obituary in the Santa Maria Times, in a quote from a former student who became an instructor at Allan Hancock, Marti Fast.
Regarding the push-pull of creativity versus market influence on an artist’s work, the student said of Mr. Shinn: “His mind worked differently because he wasn’t worried about a specific outcome.”
P.S.’s vase is worth $800 in this fast-growing marketplace for American art pottery of the mid-20th century.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.