Published: June 15, 2021
By Rick Russack
NEW LONDON, N.H. – The next exhibition at Colby-Sawyer College, “Gerry Williams: Craft and Conscience,” will be devoted to the work of Gerry Williams, (1926-2014), one of New Hampshire’s most influential midcentury studio potters. On view to September 15, the 35 pots in the exhibit will be drawn entirely from the collections of the Williams Family Trust.
For about 50 years, Williams lived and worked in Dunbarton, N.H., and his list of “firsts” is extensive. He was named New Hampshire’s first Artist Laureate by then Governor Jeanne Sheehan in 1988. He developed the first process for printing photographs directly on pottery and he developed the first method for wet-firing pottery. He founded The Studio Potter magazine in 1972 and was its editor for 30 years. He presented workshops for developing potters at institutions all over the country. Each summer, starting in about 1973, he and his wife Julie hosted a series of workshops, known as the Phoenix Workshops, at his studio in Dunbarton. He had a number of apprentices over the years and wrote frequently about the virtues of the apprentice system. He was active in the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and the American Craft Council. His works were included in numerous exhibitions, including at the White House and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and his work was sold by galleries in New Hampshire, New York, Baltimore, and in others as far west as San Francisco.
Williams was born in India, the son of missionaries. He absorbed the pacifist views of Ghandi and refused to serve in the United States military, instead accepting a two-year jail sentence. He was a strong believer in the civil rights and anti-war movements. In line with these beliefs, he created a series of complicated, multi-figure effigies, calling attention to the plight of farm workers and Cesar Chavez, the Little Big Horn massacre, the assassinations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, and other issues of the time. These effigies were rarely, if ever sold, and many will be included in this exhibition.
Except for the effigy groups, which were not for sale, Williams produced functional items for use in the home: bowls, teapots, vases, a variety of covered dishes, punchbowl sets and soup tureens, among others. Each piece was handmade, and he experimented widely with different glazes and surface treatments. When he started publishing The Studio Potter, he and his wife Julie traveled all over the country, interviewing potters and including information and photographs of their work in the magazine. His work for the magazine also took him to South America and Europe. As a result of these travels, and the wide exposure to the work of others, he often incorporated decorative motifs and surface treatments that he saw into his own work. No two pieces are identical.
“Craft and Conscience” will show several of the large effigy works that have rarely been seen. It will include examples of techniques and glazes he developed, and it will include works showing the influences of other contemporary potters he was friendly with, such as Ed and Mary Scheier, Otto and Viveka Heino, among others.
The exhibit is co-curated by Shelley Williams Westenberg, Williams’ daughter, and Jon Keenan, professor and director of the William H. and Sonja Carlson Davidow ’56 Fine Art Gallery.
The Davidow Fine Art Gallery is at 541 Main Street, on the campus of Colby Sawyer College. For information, 603-526-3667 or www.colby-sawyer.edu/gallery.
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