The Ceramic Forms of Claude Conover
by Glenn Adamson
Revolution or resolution? In modern ceramics, the former gets most of the acclaim. The disciplinary rupture brought about in the 1950s by Peter Voulkos in California, and by comparable figures in other parts of the world, was a paradigm shift, to be sure. But it wasn’t all that was happening. There were other, equally vital currents flowing through ceramics at midcentury, less explicitly avant-garde, but equally rooted in modernism.
Claude Conover deserves recognition as one of these alternative protagonists. In many respects, he was the direct antithesis of Voulkos. Based in the Midwest rather than America’s “left coast,” he went about his work with quiet professionalism. Voulkos’s work was disjunctive, built from typical pot-shapes like slabs and thrown cylinders but piled up in highly experimental configurations. Conover’s vessels are sublime in their coherence, constructed in a totally unconventional way that somewhat disguises its own innovativeness. Even their biographies crisscross: Voulkos was a skilled potter who battered his way into sculpture through sheer force of will, while Conover initially trained as a sculptor and found himself making pots almost by chance.