Glen Lukens

(1887-1967)

About The Artist

Born in Cowgill, Missouri in 1887, Glen Lukens attended Maryville State Teachers College and taught elementary and high school in his home state before moving to California. Because, at the time, America's formal ceramic tradition was rooted on the East Coast, where many of its European artisans had settled, Lukens' independent approach to the discipline emerged liberally and untethered. Lukens was “self-educated” in geology and ceramic engineering, and developed a practice characterized by a rough, organic aesthetic that proposed a visual counter argument to the sleek and precise techniques of his predecessors. Having been inspired by his frequent trips to Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the artist moved west in the 1920s, first and foremost, to search for desert materials akin to those used by the Egyptians to create their iconic blue glazes. 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. Over the course of his career, Lukens perfected his crackle glazes which ensured that each execution was entirely unique, an idea central to the studio pottery movement in which Lukens was a pioneer.

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 in 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.

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.

Due to the artist's worsening arthritis and his realization that his form of low-fire earthenware had fallen out of fashion, Lukens began focusing on glassware upon his return to California in the late 1950s. Until his death in 1967, Lukens continued to offer a variety workshops and avidly produced literature on ceramic art. Lukens' works are held in the public collections of the Huntington Library, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

Works Cited:

  • 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.

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