Modern Ceramics: NOMA Presents Personal Collection of E. John Bullard

NEW ORLEANS, LA – In the post-WWII studio ceramics movement, American potters evolved clay into an expressive art form, free from the confines of function or industrial production. Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection showcases the ceramic collection of New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) director emeritus John Bullard. Selections from this promised gift to the museum, comprised of close to 500 works by 235 artists in total, is on view November 4, 2017 through July 8, 2018 in the Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation Gallery on the museum’s second floor. Featuring 77 works from 33 artists, Personalities in Clay will be accompanied by vintage video footage showing potters engaged in the mesmerizing process of working clay.

“John Bullard expertly lad the New Orleans Museum of Art for 35 years. His clear vision positioned NOMA as the premier fine arts institution in New Orleans,” said Susan Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA. “John’s joyous, creative approach to art is clear from his accomplishments at NOMA, and is represented in his passion for American studio ceramics, which we are delighted to showcase in this exhibition.”

The exhibition and catalogue Personalities in Clay chart the major figures in handmade American studio pottery from 1940 to the end of the 20th century. During this era’s revolution in clay, potters and teachers like Peter Voulkos and Marguerite Wildenhain elevated ceramics from a medium of decorative, functional vessels, to one compatible with expressive fine arts. With a strong network of education, experiments in innovative techniques, and myriad creative voices taking to individual clay production, American potters redefined ceramic’s potential as a potent, expressive medium.

“I have held a long interest in American studio ceramics. As a Los Angeles teenager, I was witness to the explosive growth of ceramic arts in Southern California, when I saw pots by the Natzlers, Beatrice Wood, and landmark exhibitions about Abstract Expressionist ceramics with works by Peter Voulkos,” said E. John Bullard, NOMA director emeritus. “I have followed that passion to dedicate my retirement to assembling for NOMA a collection that surveys clay development from 1945 to 1990.”

“We used the title of this project, Personalities in Clay, to reference the wild variety of ceramic expression you see in John’s collection,” said Mel Buchanan, NOMA’s RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design. “Ceramic art can range from perfectly-formed, idyllic vases and bowls to abstract sculptures with exuberant gashes in clay. Richard Notkin and Patti Warashina conveyed a strong political statement in their work, while later ceramics show a timeless appreciation for beautiful ornament and sophisticated craft process.”

Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection is organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art. The exhibition is supported by Catherine Burns Tremaine and Drs. Howard and Joy Osofsky.


The exhibition is accompanied by Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection, a full-color, 104-page catalogue, published by NOMA. The catalogue highlights significant work with a two-page spread for each of 32 artists in the exhibition, features an essay by John Bullard on his approach to collecting, and is anchored by an essay by Mel Buchanan, NOMA’s RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design that situates the context of the studio ceramics movement.

Exhibition-Related Programming

Special events: “Decoding Contemporary Clay,” a lecture by Garth Johnson, Curator of Ceramics, Arizona State University Art Museum, takes places on Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 6 PM in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium. NOMA will host the American Ceramics Circle Symposium on November 3 and 4, 2017; NOMA will host an Educator Workshop: Science of Clay on November 14, 2017.

Noontime Talks: Curator Mel Buchanan will lead a noontime talk on the exhibition on Wednesday, January 3, 2018; E. John Bullard will lead a noontime talk on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Friday Nights at NOMA: Curator Mel Buchanan will lead a gallery talk on Friday, January 5, 2018; E. John Bullard will lead a gallery talk on Friday, January 12, 2018. NOMA will host an artist perspective with Biloxi artist Kevin O’Keefe Friday, January 26, 2018. The “Drawings in Clay: Sgraffito Technique with Rachael DePauw” workshop takes place on Friday, January 5, 2018.

About NOMA and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

The New Orleans Museum of Art, founded in 1910 by Isaac Delgado, houses nearly 40,000 art objects encompassing 5,000 years of world art. Works from the permanent collection, along with continuously changing special exhibitions, are on view in the museum’s 46 galleries Fridays from 10 AM to 9 PM; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 AM to 6 PM; Saturdays from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sundays from 11 AM to 5 PM. NOMA offers docent-guided tours at 1 PM every Tuesday – Sunday. The adjoining Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden features work by over 60 artists, including several of the 20th century’s master sculptors. The Sculpture Garden is open seven days a week: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The New Orleans Museum of Art and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden are fully accessible to handicapped visitors and wheelchairs are available from the front desk. For more information about NOMA, call (504) 658-4100 or visit Wednesdays are free admission days for Louisiana residents, courtesy of The Helis Foundation. Teenagers (ages 13-19) receive free admission every day through the end of the year, courtesy of The Helis Foundation.

Contact Margaux Krane, Communications and Marketing Manager, for additional information and hi-res images:, 504.658.4016.