Modern Pottery for All

Last week saw the passing of Barbara Willis, the influential California modernist potter who created some of the most admired ceramics of the mid-century. A resident of Malibu, she died at the age of 94.

While studying at UCLA in the late 1930s, she honed her command of the crackle-glaze under the direction of potter Laura Andreson. After graduating in 1941, Willis established a tiny studio in the back of her parents’ LA home where she produced pieces glazed in brilliant colors: “intense turquoise, citron/chartreuse, and deep Chinese red, colors that seem to have been made to order for today’s Modernist Revival sensibility.”

Willis made her flower vases and bowls for local florists, usually crackle-glazed at the top with exposed, unfinished clay towards the bottom. As she honed her bright glazes and simple forms, she expanded to a North Hollywood studio with fifteen employees. With the ability to mass-produce her forms using molds, Willis was able to offer attractive and modern pottery to the general public at reasonable prices. She created a variety of forms, including candle holders, cigarette boxes, and other household items, yet she is most famous for her utilitarian and radiant plates and bowls.

Check out the Autry Museum’s California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism webpage for more information.

– Paul Des Marais, Contributing Writer 

“Barbara Willis Pottery.” California Pottery Index, 2011. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.

“Barbara Willis: A Modernist for the Masses.” California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism. Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 2004. Web. 13 Sept. 2011.

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