Greenwich collector establishes free database to ceramics/pottery world

Greenwich collector Martha Vida has established the Internet’s first free searchable database for American studio ceramics and pottery produced since the end of World War II.

Vida, a onetime interior designer, converted a lifelong interest in ceramics into The Dictionary of American Studio Ceramics, 1946 to Present (themarksproject.org).

The registry is an illustrated encyclopedia of American studio ceramics, assembling for the first time in electronic form a listing of ceramic artists, active and departed, with the marks and signatures commonly found on the bottom of their work — enhanced with images, biographies, bibliographies and a directory of museums and galleries where the pieces are on display.

Under a nonprofit structuring, the site carries no advertising, has no fee to ceramic artists for documenting their work on the site and no costs are incurred for searching. It is also not a valuation tool. Nor are any items appraised critically.  

Vida, the founding director of the catalogue, is to be honored by the nonprofit Clay Arts Center in Port Chester, NY Oct. 20 “for her passion for making clay artists visible and increasing their ability to establish a presence in the larger marketplace of collectors, writers, researcher, curators and gallerists.”  

An evening called “Hand to Hand” at the Willow Ridge Country Club (123 North St.) in Harrison, NY also recognizes artist-educator Harriet Ross of Hartsdale, NY and philanthropists Anne Owen and the late Bill Owen of Scarsdale, NY.   

Vida characterizes the realm of ceramics and pottery as “an insight into understanding our culture.”

“What the site does,” she says, “is make all of the listed ceramic artists visible to a larger audience, giving wider exposure to a circle of talented people who have remained largely anonymous to the outside world. In the past you might come across a fantastic piece but there was really no readily authentic way to identify the maker.”

Donald Clark of Springfield, Mass., the research coordinator, brings a 25-year gallery background to the assignment. He points out that books documenting works in clay have been published in the past but their content is frozen in time. The electronic dictionary, on the other hand, can be updated continuously and expanded with the evolution of the artists.

Why does the dictionary go back only as far as 1946?  

Ulysses Grant Dietz, executive director of the Newark Museum of Art in New Jersey, suggested the date. He reasoned the end of World War II was a natural starting date, capturing studio ceramists of earlier years still working, also influential makers who immigrated to the U.S. before the war and returning veterans who used the G.I Bill to study working in clay.

Today among the  titans in world of handmade clay crafts represented in the catalogue are acclaimed figures like Adrien Saxe of Los Angeles, Warren MacKenzie of Stillwater, Minn., the late Ruth Duckworth of Chicago, Richard DeVore of Fort Collins, Colo., and Otto and Getrud Natzler of Los Angeles. So are talented artists with regional reputations who have gone unheralded before now outside of their geographic sphere.

Vida, Clark and Ali Baldeneboro, the project director, estimate up to 10,000 artists might ultimately be listed and emphasizing that the directory is not a valuation tool. Only U.S. clay artists are included.

How does the dictionary differ from what might be generated by a simple Google search?

Clark posits the site offers a one-stop listing available for a targeted search or just browsing, as opposed to a Google search that makes available one artist at a time.

Additional information is available from Martha Vida, executive director, [email protected] or by calling 203-622-9059.  

The Marks Project is a publicly supported 501(c)3 nonprofit. Tax-deductible contributions can be made on the website or sent to The Marks Project, 1117 East Putnam Ave., Riverside, CT 06878. 

Martha Vida with a variety of pieces from her personal collection of American studio ceramics. Photo by Jason Byrd.

Martha Vida with a variety of pieces from her personal collection of American studio ceramics. Photo by Jason Byrd.

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