Waylande Gregory: Art Deco Ceramics and the Atomic Impulse

Wednesday, February 13 to Sunday, September 29, 2013,
Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature

Waylande Gregory: Art Deco Ceramics and the Atomic Impulse is on view February 13 to September 29, 2013, in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums. Waylande Gregory (American, 1905-1971) was one of the leading figures in twentieth-century American ceramics. He helped shape Art Deco design in the United States. The exhibition is the first retrospective on the artist, highlighting more than sixty works including paintings, glass, and ceramics, most notably four Electrons from his major commission for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, The Fountain of the Atom.

In the 1930s the artist’s career mirrored the changing focus of American ceramics, from art pottery to studio pottery. From 1928 to 1932, Gregory was the chief designer and lead sculptor at Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio. At Cowan, Gregory created some the Pottery’s finest works, including three limited edition sculptures relating to dance, including Salome, Nautch Dancer, and Burlesque Dancer. All three of these pieces are featured in the exhibition. Salome combines the horror of the story about the beheading of John the Baptist, as well as the rhythm and motion of Salome’s veil dance. Salome won first prize at the Cleveland Museum of Art May Show of 1929. The last two works were based on the dancing of Gilda Grey, a well-known entertainer from the Ziegfeld Follies who inspired these sculptures.

In 1931, Gregory became artist-in-residence of ceramics at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Other members of the faculty included the architect Eliel Saarinen and the sculptor Carl Milles. Under Gregory’s guidance, Cranbrook began the development of a serious ceramics program. Although working at Cranbrook for only eighteen months, Gregory produced several well-known sculptures there, including Kansas Madonna and Girl with Olive, both of which are featured in the exhibition.

After leaving Cranbrook and moving to New Jersey, Gregory was named Director of Sculpture of the New Jersey Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was during this time that he created the fountain, Light Dispelling Darkness, which features monumental ceramic sculptures that can be seen today in Roosevelt Park in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The work, a tribute to Thomas Edison, exhibits a heroic theme of combating evil through knowledge. It consists of a terracotta globe surrounding a shaft of relief figures including a scientist, artist, engineer, and industrial workers. The outside figures represent conquest, war, famine, death, greed, and materialism fleeing the forces of science and knowledge. This sculptural grouping would lay the groundwork for the World’s Fair’s commission for The Fountain of the Atom.

Gregory was commissioned for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair to produce The Fountain of the Atom. It was comprised of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, surrounded by eight electrons, four male and four female. He described the electrons as “elemental little savages of boundless electrical energy, dancing to the rhythm of sculptured bolts of lightning-like flashes in brilliant colored glazes, their buoyant shaped bodies of richly modeled terracotta clays in warm colors.” Highlighted in the exhibition are four of the eight electrons- Male Electron with Green Hair, Male Electron with Fins, Female Electron with Bolt of Lightning, and Female Electron with Bubbles. Also included is the element Fire and a macquette of the element Water.

By the late 1930s Gregory began to focus on glass, as well as on a fusion of ceramics and glass. In addition to becoming one of the earliest studio ceramics artists, he was also one of the first studio glass artists. He created enameled glass vases as well as stained glass windows. In the 1940s and 1950s Gregory produced refined and highly stylized decorative porcelains which were displayed and sold at leading American retail stores including Tiffany’s and Neiman-Marcus.

He continued to work until his death in 1971. By the end of his life, the artist had created one of the largest bodies of ceramic sculptural works in modern times, a body of work that represents one of the greatest legacies in American ceramics history.

The exhibition was organized by the University of Richmond Museums and curated by Thomas C. Folk, PhD, independent ceramics scholar. The first monograph on Gregory, which also serves as a catalogue for the exhibition, has been published by University of Richmond Museums.

Ceramics of Waylande Gregory

Tuesday, February 12, 2013, 7 to 9 p.m.
7 p.m., Lecture, Brown Alley Room, Weinstein Hall, The Ceramics of Waylande Gregory, Thomas C. Folk, independent ceramics scholar and curator of the exhibition
8 to 9 p.m., Reception and preview of the exhibition, Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University Museums