Ceramicist Celebrated on his Centenary

Harrison McIntosh works exhibited at AMOCA. Courtesy of AMOCA

Harrison McIntosh, one of the greatest modernist ceramic artists in California, is the subject of a retrospective exhibit marking his 100th birthday.

The exhibit, which runs through October 26, is at AMOCA – the American Museum of Ceramic Art, in Pomona. The museum’s curator, David Armstrong, has called McIntosh, who lives nearby, “the great gentleman of ceramics.”

McIntosh’s story suggests a lot about mid-century modern design—how craftsmen like McIntosh, inspired by the Bauhaus, the Scandinavian modernists, Sung pottery, and local modern architects like Richard Neutra created work characterized by self-conscious simplicity, attention to pure form, and precision.

Harrison McIntosh and his wife Marguerite enjoy the celebration. Courtesy of AMOCA

In its detailing, too, McIntosh’s work comes across as decidedly mid-century modern—carefully incised geometric designs, odd abstract forms, touches of Asian calligraphy, planetary forms, elliptical patterns that suggest sine waves.

McIntosh designed his works as art, not as functional pieces.

Some of his later work departed even further from the traditions of functional pottery, becoming purely sculptural. Some combined ceramic forms with chromed steel plates.

Throughout his long career, McIntosh worked closely with his wife, Marguerite, an artist herself. She was part of the creative process, helping inspire the work and giving almost every piece its title.

A plate by McIntosh shows his command of glazing and design. Photo by Anna Torres, courtesy of AMOCA

“Usually when I give a title,” she said in a 2010 interview, “he realizes this was the process of his subconscious while making the piece.”

The museum writes: “Following his own path, McIntosh chose to build on his foundation in modern design rather than pursue the expressionistic approach to clay that became popular in the 1960s. Working in his Claremont studio, he continued to explore the subtleties of form, both vessel and sculptural, in his personal, thoughtfully deliberate manner.

“He was one of the first generation of West Coast potters to work with hand-thrown stoneware, a contemporary of Gertrude and Otto Natzler and Laura Andreson. Along with his close friend Sam Maloof, he was among the craftsmen whose work defined California design at mid-century, interpreting a modern esthetic with natural materials.”

Some of McIntosh's work went beyond pots entirely to become purely sculptural. Photo by Cynthia Madrigal, courtesy of AMOCA.

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter