Walter Ostrom is Northern Clay Center’s 27th Regis Master; he is one of two ceramic artists bestowed with the title in 2014. The other, Adrian Saxe, was featured in an exhibition in spring of 2014. The Regis Masters Series began in 1997, and honors senior artists who have had a major impact on the development of 20th and 21st century ceramics. The Regis Masters Series was originally supported by Regis and Friends and continues today through generous support from Anita Kunin and the Kunin Family, in honor of the late Myron Kunin, a philanthropist and former owner of the Regis Corporation.
Ostrom will add his story to a limited oral history of a senior generation of ceramic artists on Saturday, September 27, at 2 pm, with a free public lecture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, in the Pillsbury Auditorium.
In honor of his nearly 40 years of teaching, Walter Ostrom, C.M., was recently appointed Professor Emeritus of Ceramics by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1997, he was awarded an Honorary Professorship at the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, People’s Republic of China. One of Canada’s most highly respected ceramic artists, in 2003, Ostrom was also named the 27th recipient of the Saidye Bronfman Award and in April 2006 was inducted into the Order of Canada.
From Beijing to Amsterdam and New York, he is considered one of the most profoundly influential ceramists of his generation and a giant in the field of contemporary ceramics. Curator Susan Jeffries writes that Ostrom has a “profound interest in, and understanding of, the history of ceramics.”1 “His own work,” she notes, “is easily recognizable and of the highest order, both technically and conceptually… The white background often serves to record his vast knowledge and love of ceramic history and botany.”2 According to former NSCAD President, Paul Greenhalgh, his work is a “‘discourse on the history of ceramic ornamentation.’”3
Ostrom is regarded internationally as a technical and academic expert in tin glaze, an ancient ceramic technique that he has personally tailored, through innovations and decorative methods, to reflect the geography of the places where he has lived — whether in Nova Scotia or the Far East. His body of work has developed across many aspects of ceramics in the span of his nearly 50-year career — from experiments in high conceptualism in the 1970s to his later exploration of the vast history, hybridization, and social foundation of ceramics. Robin Metcalfe, author of Studio Rally: Art and Craft of Nova Scotia (1999), claims that “in the polarized context of contemporary clay discourse in Halifax” — and, we would add, throughout the contemporary clay world — Ostrom’s work represents a “clay practice that orients itself toward the pot, rather than to clay as a more generally sculptural medium, and thus towards craft and function and away from the gallery as its primary site.”4
Nonetheless, Ostrom has exhibited extensively and lectured internationally. He has participated in more than 100 group and solo exhibitions throughout North America and has presented over 150 workshops and lectures in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Asia. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics, Toronto; Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax; and the Claridge Collection, Montreal.
Born in the United States and educated there and in Europe, Ostrom moved to Canada in 1969 to teach at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (now NSCAD University). An outstanding educator, he is committed to craft practice and theory. Widely recognized as a seminal teacher for generations of ceramic artists and for using the local red clay of Nova Scotia, he has been instrumental in reviving such tenets of craft as utility, decoration, and function, and he continues to champion the role of fine craft within the visual arts.
1 Susan Jefferies, “A Place in Ceramic History: Roseline Delisle and Walter Ostrom,” Crafting New Traditions: Canadian Innovators and Influences, edited by Melanie Egan, Alan C. Elder, and Jean Johnson, (Quebec, Canada: Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, 2009): 25.
2 Jefferies, “A Place in Ceramic History,” 30.
3 As quoted in Jefferies, “A Place in Ceramic History,” 30.
4 Robin Metcalfe, “Tempest in a Teapot: Walter Ostrom and the Clay Wars,” ARTSatlantic, issue 56, Fall/Winter 1996: 4–5.