Grand Guru of Clay

Once one of Los Angeles' top mid-century artists—and then forgotten—Raul Angulo Coronel looks back with newfound fame
Grand Guru of Clay
Raul Coronel forms a vase on his potter's wheel circa 1958.
Grand Guru of Clay
Coronel's studio and showroom, from the same era, was in L.A.'s design district on Melrose Avenue.
Grand Guru of Clay
Coronel's nude torso sculpture from the 1970s.

When the Jaguar XKE made its first appearance in Los Angeles at the start of the '60s, Raul Angulo Coronel was among the first to snap one up. Soon the handsome, "dark Latin," in the words of one newspaper, "impeccably dressed and groomed," in the words of another, was tooling about town with his gorgeous wife Leanore ('Lee').

It wouldn't be the only sleek little XKE Coronel would own, and he also bought a 1953 MG, "which I reconverted," Coronel recalls. "I completely tore it apart, and painted it metallic grey, with black leather and a black top. I had money to waste!"

Pretty good for a studio potter.

"He was a lot of people's guru," says Frank Matranga, today a well-known potter, but in the 1950s Coronel's assistant.

"He was probably at the top of the chain in Los Angles in terms of pottery studios," Matranga says. "Everybody thought Raul was the hippest cat in town. He was the kind of guy we all wanted to become."

Raul and Lee would park at Ciro's for dinner, and a few years later do the twist at Whisky a Go Go. When they caught Herb Alpert's opening night at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre, the society pages referred to Coronel as "the internationally famous sculptor and stoneware designer."

A few years later the Los Angeles Times' Home magazine ran a five-page color spread on the Coronel's home, expertly furnished in mid-century modern style by Raul himself.

That same year the Times' food pages ran his recipe for 'Chicken Coronel.' "Noted sculptor Raul Coronel enjoys mixing delectable sauces in the kitchen every bit as much as he enjoys mixing exotic glazes in his studio," the paper wrote.

"I think he liked showing off," Matranga says of Coronel, adding that his mentor went out of his way both to impress and help young ceramicists.