Breaking the Mold: Queer, Female, and Revolutionary Ceramicists in The Pfannebecker Collection

Through their explorations of both figurative and abstract forms in clay, these five artists have come to define the field of American ceramics today.

11/04/2022     Latest News, News and Film, 20th Century and Contemporary Design



Clay has long been a medium in which marginalized artists can experiment, play, and push the limits of form. “Historically associated in the West with the decorative and the domestic,” according to the Gardiner Museum, “ceramics has long been regarded as a feminized practice with a particularly strong queer dimension.”

A selection of such works is on offer in Freeman’s November 18 auction, Modern and Contemporary Craft: Selections from the Robert L. Pfannebecker Collection, which brings more than two hundred lots of American craft to market, amassed by Pfannebecker—an attorney and avid collector—over several decades. Here, Freeman’s specialists highlight unmissable works by queer and female ceramicists featured in Modern and Contemporary Craft.


Andrea Gill 

andrea gill vessel

Lot 56 I Monumental Lidded Vessel 


“When you look at a pot,” writes Andrea Gill, “most of the time you are looking at a line…even though you think of them as forms.” Gill’s attention to line is evident both in the forms themselves and in the striking, colorful, flat-patterned imagery that adorns them; Gill’s vessels often serve as vehicles for painted decoration, as in a large lidded vessel painted with intricate, geometric linework (Lot 56).

Gill’s attention to linework and decoration perhaps stems from her education; she was initially trained as a painter, receiving her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and later her MFA from the New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University. With a sense of play and experimentation in the shapes of her vessels and vases, Gill uses the clay itself as her canvas, to dazzling results.


Mark Burns

mark burns bobs big boy

Lot 69 I Bob's Big Boy 


The ceramicist Mark Burns has many titles: the Fairy Godfather of American Queer Ceramics to some, or, according to a 2017 article in The Boston Globe, “the John Waters of ceramics.” Looking at Burns’s body of work, it’s not difficult to see why; the artist consistently pushes the envelope, inviting taboo subject matter into his work, subverting expectations of the field of ceramics, and developing a distinctly queer aesthetic.

Works on offer in Modern and Contemporary Craft, like Bob’s Big Boy (Lot 69), incorporate absurd or unexpected imagery, while I, Monument (Lot 66), like many of the artist’s sculptures, feature cheeky self-portraiture. An MFA student under celebrated ceramicists Patti Warashina and Howard Kottler at the University of Washington, Burns has gone on to become one of the most exciting and renowned practitioners in his field, and was elected a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 2018.


Betty Woodman

betty woodman ceramics

Lot 41 I Oval Basket with Console Handles 

Betty Woodman’s expressive, genre-bending ceramics have earned her a place as one of the most important American artists of the latter half of the 20th century. She made her mark not only through her highly original body of work, but in education—she was instrumental in developing one of the finest ceramics programs in the country at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her work is widely recognized as groundbreaking, and so was her career path; a 2006 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the museum’s first survey of a living female artist.

betty woodman ceramics

Lot 42 I Group of Ten Dinner Plates 

Modern and Contemporary Craft
brings four lots by Woodman to market, from an elegant oval basket with console handles (Lot 41) to a series of glazed earthenware tablewares, including a group of ten dinner plates (Lot 42) and a teapot with two cups and saucers (Lot 43)—excellent opportunities to collect works by this giant of American ceramics.


Anne Currier

ann currier sculpture

Lot 47 I Ceramic Sculpture

Anne Currier describes herself as “a sculptor whose medium is ceramic,” and one look at her impressive body of work reveals the sculptural intent behind everything she does. Two works on offer in Freeman’s November 18 auction (Lots 47 and 48) are studies in mass and volume, light and shadow—sleek forms that are so smooth and sculptural as to be almost unrecognizable as glazed ceramics.

These works—made of intersecting shapes that simultaneously bear resemblance to the body and to architectural fragments—have earned Currier numerous fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, not to mention several teaching awards at Alfred University, where she has been a professor since 1986. Currier’s work is represented in many private and public collections, including the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.



Patti Warashina

patti warashina

Lot 40 I Freeing the Bird 

Like her onetime student at the University of Washington, Mark Burns, Patti Warashina often wields ceramics representationally—and with a healthy dash of humor and the absurd. Speaking about her work, Warashina has said that she uses the figure “in voyeuristic situations in which irony, humor, absurdities portray human behavior as a relief from society’s pressure and frustrations on mankind.” Freeing the Bird, the one Warashina work in the Pfannebecker Collection (Lot 40), puts this representational focus on full display, with seven glazed human figures and two glazed bird figures creating a moving tableau within a glass vitrine.

Warashina’s work often resides in the space between “reality” and dreams or fantasies, with proportions and perspectives that bend our sense of the real. A celebrated figure both within the Seattle ceramic scene she helped develop as well as nationally and internationally, Warashina is a towering presence within American ceramics, bringing wit and insightful social commentary to her work.



View the rest of our November 18 Modern and Contemporary Craft:
Selections from the Robert L. Pfannebecker Collection



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