In the Beginning – 1945

The Association of Clay and Glass Artists (ACGA) began modestly in 1945 when a charter group of eleven students and artists, led by F. Carlton Ball, formed the Association of San Francisco Potters. Meeting at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), the members set up their constitution, outlined their aims and elected as their president, Dorothy Mow.

Early months of the club were filled with discussions of what the group wanted to become, whether it wished to grow into a large and representative group or simply to hold a small group together who could collaborate on projects like firing together or experimenting with glazes. From these early discussions, the Association coalesced a plan to widen the scope of the organization, to include all people in the area: potters, teachers, and others interested in the craft. By the end of the inaugural year, the Association had welcomed the entire roster of the Ceramic Guild at Mills College into its membership.

By all accounts, the early years were exciting times for the Association, filled with new discoveries. Each month, meetings included Programs on ceramic techniques. The amount of sharing that occurred between members has proved to be a defining feature of the Association.

Betty McCrone, President in 1946, remembers, “For ten years or more, most of the programs were devoted to the results or research which were shared with the Association. One of the first was a study of the fat lard like glazes of the Sung period in China, presented in a scholarly paper by Rossi Reynolds. Tony Prieto contributed a treatise on Design. Edith Heath shared the secrets of her colored bodies. Betty McCrone gave her ‘bluebird’ talk illustrated with tiles…Elena Netherby, whose success with high-fire reduction sang de boeuf was bringing her country-wide fame, presented formulas and firing techniques. Carlton Ball matched this with a six month study of celadons.”

1957 Jury at California State Fair

In the 50’s and 60’s

As early as 1950, the Association hosted a seminal conference entitled, “What Makes a Potter Good” featuring talks by Edith Heath, Marguerite Wildenhain, Herb Sanders and Anthony Prieto. Over the years, the Association has hosted important artist workshops from the likes of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, Don Reitz, Stephen De Staebler, Byron Temple, Daniel Rhodes, and Eric Norstad.

Besides the collegial sharing of knowledge, the early members of the Association realized the power of working together for the betterment of all members. One of the primary goals of the new group was to arrange exhibits for the work of the members, and the first step in this direction was an exhibition held in the three galleries of the School of Fine Arts at their Annual Show. Members’ work was shown very effectively and their names were associated with the name of the Association.

A major success for the young organization came when its members persuaded the Syracuse Museum to make San Francisco one of the regional centers for judging pots for their prestigious annual Exhibitions. At the time, the show was a rare venue for the display of ceramic art and securing a local jury assured many more Bay Area potters a chance to compete and gain national recognition.

Not only did the Association work to bring recognition and attention to California artists, it also created local venues for the artists. In 1952, with the help of then curator Dr. Elizabeth Moses, the Association hosted a juried exhibit at the M. H. de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. These annual exhibits were an important part of the Association’s activities until 1968.

To fund the exhibitions at the de Young Museum, the Association sponsored an annual “Pot Sale” from very early on. These were held for many years at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery on Gough Street in San Francisco. Madame Marcelle Labaudt was an early and avid supporter of the Association. From 1948, Mme Labaudt offered her gallery space for monthly meetings as well as the Pot Sale. The Labaudt Gallery continued to be a home to the Association for 33 years.

The Pot Sale provided members the opportunity to sell their work to the public. This sales event moved to the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park in October, 1962. The Sale later evolved into ACGA’s Clay and Glass Festival in 1993. Revenues from the Festival drive the many activities of the Association today.

In the 21st Century

Today, ACGA continues to coordinate a robust schedule for Exhibiting artists to show their work. These shows explore a variety of themes and provide ceramic artists the opportunity to push the public’s perceptions of clay and glass art. Recent show venues have included the Falkirk Cultural Center, Triton Museum, Palo Alto Research Center, and Marin MOCA.

The membership of the Association has grown to a group of over three hundred professional clay and glass artists, students, supporters, collectors and corporate sponsors. As the Association has grown, it has gone through several name changes. The Association of San Francisco Potters of 1945 became the Association of San Francisco Potters and Glassblowers in 1964. The group became the Association of California Ceramic Artists in 1986 and finally settled on its current name, the Association of Clay and Glass Artists in 1997.

The list of members over the years have included some of the most accomplished ceramic artists of our time: Otto and Vivika Heino, Peter Voulkos, Marguerite Wildenhain, Mary Lindheim, Bob Arneson, Jade Snow Wong, Viola Frey, James Lovera to name but a few.

From the very beginning, the Association’s goals have remained steadfastly the same. Firstly, the Association aims to promote the highest standards of craftsmanship and to showcase the best of ceramic art. Second, the Association works to create venues for sharing technical aspects of creating ceramic work. And finally, the Association continues to find venues for its members to display and sell their work to the public.

Compiled by Cuong Ta, 2009