LAMA BLOG

Artist Spotlight: Glen Lukens

May 11, 2019

Missouri-born ceramic and glass artist, Glen Lukens (1887–1967), is celebrated as one of “the great artist-teachers” of the twentieth century. Through his workshops, writing, and experiments, he sparked a sweeping interest in traditional pottery methods that had been discounted with the advent of new technologies and trends. “Self-educated” in geology and ceramic engineering, Lukens attended Maryville State Teachers College and taught elementary and high school in his home state before relocating to California. At the time, America’s formal ceramic tradition was rooted on the East Coast where many of European artisans had settled. As a result, Lukens’ independent approach to the discipline emerged liberally and untethered. The artist developed a practice characterized by a rough, organic aesthetic that proposed a visual counter-argument to the precise and decorative styles of his predecessors.

Glen Lukens, Vase, c. 1940
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

Inspired by his frequent trips to Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the artist moved west in the 1920s to search for desert materials akin to those used by the ancient Egyptians to create the iconic blue glazes known as Egyptian faience. Lukens’ career-long quest to replicate ancient pastes motivated his investigation of natural mineral deposits and alkaline compositions. Using selenium, uranium, and other rare minerals, he harnessed distinctive pigments, such as his signature “ocean-like” blue glaze, which took nearly ten years to develop. Amidst simple shapes and forms, Lukens often paired rich, silky colors with coarse, unglazed clay, illustrating “a contrast between arid and lush,” reminiscent of the environmental diversity of his adopted California home. Throughout his career Lukens perfected his crackle glazes, which when pooled and dripped, as seen in Shallow Bowl (c. 1939), Bowl (c. 1945), and Vase (c. 1940), produced a sense of drama. These glazes also ensured that each execution was entirely unique, an idea central to the studio pottery movement of which Lukens was a pioneer.

Glen Lukens, Bowl, c. 1945
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

While teaching at Fullerton High School, Fullerton College, and later the University of Southern California, Lukens made important technical contributions to the ceramic arts. In addition to displacing the dominant slip-cast method by being “possibly the first ceramist in California to use the potter’s wheel,” Lukens developed one of the earliest electric kilns, in collaboration with his students. Prior to Lukens’ engineering, schools and studios were unable to maintain in-house pottery kilns due to their size and emissions. The artist debuted his design at the San Francisco World’s Fair of 1939-40, where it was used for demonstration firings by Gertrud and Otto Natzler. Lukens attracted a large number of disciples, not only through his ceramic work, but through his robust offering of glass, metalworking, and jewelry courses as well. After just one year teaching at USC, Lukens was appointed chair of the university’s nascent ceramics program in 1933. One of the first of its kind, the program drew students and teachers from across disciplines, eager to train under Lukens’ guidance. Lukens’ impressive roster of students included F. Carlton Ball, Roy Walker, and Frank Gehry.

Glen Lukens, Bowl, c. 1940
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

An advocate for utilitarian art, Lukens retired from USC in the mid-1940s to travel to Haiti, upon invitation from the United States Aid Program. Throughout the following decade the artist worked with the island’s communities to establish pottery craft as a profitable home industry. In light of many failed attempts to secure continued financial support from Washington, Lukens tirelessly petitioned his personal and professional circles stateside for funding and supplies. In 1951, Lukens was presented with a commendation by the Haitian government, in part for his role in stemming the island’s dysentery epidemic. By replicating traditional gourd drinking vessels with glazed ceramic, Lukens offered the Haitian people a more sanitary, yet culturally salient, alternative for water storage and consumption.

Glen Lukens, Shallow bowl, c. 1939
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

By the time Lukens returned home to California in the late 1950s, a new wave of ceramic art had taken hold. Due to the artist’s worsening arthritis and the realization that his form of low-fire earthenware had fallen out of fashion, Lukens began focusing on glassware. Until his death in 1967, Lukens continued to offer a variety workshops and avidly produced literature on ceramic art. Lukens’ formidable influence on California’s ceramic heritage is undisputed and his work still exhibits actively.

McCloud, Mac. “Glen Lukens: Pioneer Ceramist.” American Craft (Archive : 1979-2005), vol. 42, no. 3, Jun 01, 1982, pp. 12-15.
Peterson, Susan. “Glen Lukens 1887-1967.” Craft Horizons (Archive : 1941-1978), vol. 28, no. 2, Mar 01, 1968, pp. 22-25.
Prunkl, Pete. “Mojave modern: in the ease of potter Glen Lukens, form followed function and emotion.” Antiques Roadshow Insider, Jan. 2008.


LOT INFORMATION

Lot 118
Glen Lukens
Vase
Studio, executed c. 1940
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
4.5″ x 6.5″ diameter; (11 x 17 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

Lot 119
Glen Lukens
Bowl
Studio, executed c. 1945
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
2.25″ x 10″ diameter; (6 x 25 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

Lot 120
Glen Lukens
Bowl
Studio, executed c. 1940
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
3″ x 11″ diameter; (8 x 28 cm)

Estimate: $4,000–6,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

Lot 121
Glen Lukens
Shallow bowl
Studio, executed c. 1939
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
1.375″ x 7.5″ diameter; (3 x 19 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000
May 19, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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