While WAM has exhibited ceramics frequently, this is the first time an entire gallery has been devoted to the ceramics collection. Internationally respected potter Warren MacKenzie and WAM director Lyndel King curated the exhibit for the reopening of the building expansion in 2011. They did not approach the selection with a particular framework in mind and then find ceramics to illustrate their ideas. Instead, after a long consideration of the collection, ways to organize the exhibit suggested themselves, and pieces in the collection inspired the themes of the exhibit.
This method of working means the exhibit does not have a consistent approach. Some pieces were chosen because of a specific function, others because of their aesthetic appeal, and still others by the kind of artist who created them.
Ceramics were a part of WAM’s collection almost from its first days as the Little Gallery. University President Lotus Coffman started the museum in 1934 to give students an opportunity to have art in their daily lives and as lifelong inspiration.
The exhibit is sectioned into six areas of focus: drinking, figures, decoration, country, Mimbres pottery, and Warren MacKenzie.
One section displays vessels made for pouring—teapots, coffee pots, and pitchers. Another features cups, vessels made for drinking. One section displays ceramics for which form is the major aesthetic appeal and another shows those in which decoration is primary. Another area shows what Warren MacKenzie calls country pieces: objects made for everyday use by people who never would have thought of themselves as artists. These beautiful pieces are a great source of inspiration for potters all over the world. The tradition of making figures from clay is long-standing. Among the earliest pieces on display are figures created during the Han Dynasty in China, which was established around 200 BCE and lasted until about 220 CE.
The many sections in this exhibition focus on a major collection of Mimbres pottery collected by the University through excavation from 1929 to 1931. The Mimbres people made distinctive pottery in southwestern New Mexico about one thousand years ago. WAM has the largest collection of Mimbres pottery.