Claude Conover, Ceramicist, 19071994

1983 cleveland arts prize for VISUAL ARTS

The Cleveland Arts Prize awarded the visual arts prize to Claude Conover in 1983 for his bold and unique ceramic pieces that reflect strength of form and endurance unusual in the field. Using his own clay “bodies” (basic forms), usually of stoneware and mostly monochromatic, Conover decorated the surfaces with cryptic scratches, stripes and hatchings. Although decorative in intent, the indecipherable incised lines on his ceramics suggest some prehistoric unreadable script. The resultant works evoke a timeless monumentality reminiscent of ancient vessels whose utilitarian purpose is now lost to us. Within this limited repertoire, he produced beautiful, eternal works of art. Although Conover’s large impressive pots are his best work, he also made other forms, such as bowls, lamps, and ceramic animal sculpture.

Born in Pittsburgh and educated at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Conover worked as a commercial designer for over 30 years before turning full-time to ceramics, the techniques of which he taught himself. He exhibited in 14 May Show exhibitions and for many years in national ceramics shows. Over his lifetime his work was shown in almost 50 exhibitions in museums across the country and his pieces are found in numerous public, private and corporate collections. Today these ceramics command high prices in the market place.

In Fred Griffith’s 1983 television documentary on Claude Conover, The Bottle Maker, the artist explained his working methods in detail. Ever practical, he approached his art carefully and sensibly. While still a commercial artist, he worked nights in the studio behind his house as his patient and understanding wife found other activities.

After he gave up employment to devote all his time to ceramics, Conover put himself on a seven-day schedule. His working process, he said, was the result of those many years spent as a commercial artist. On Mondays he rolled slabs and made vessels and their necks, letting them dry overnight. On Tuesdays he stepped back and considered what was needed to finish the forms and started putting his pots together, adding the necks and other attached pieces. On Wednesdays he finished shaping the forms, all the while “paddling and pushing,” never employing a potter’s wheel. He devoted Thursdays to scratching the pieces with a sawtooth blade to achieve the desired surface effects. On Fridays he decided on the decorations, implementing them with his own hand-made roller to add the various patterns. He had to finish the entire process by Sunday, he explained, so that he could begin again on Monday. In this way he produced six pots every week and about 250 objects a year, of which 50-60 remained in the Cleveland area. The rest went to public and private collections across the country. At his death his work could be found in more than 20 museum collections.

Claude Conover knew that it was the simplicity of his pieces that made them so popular: They could fit in with any décor and often functioned as utilitarian works of art. He enjoyed working by himself, finding ideas for his shapes and decorations in anything he came upon, such as simple natural or manmade objects. For Conover, ideas were everywhere: One needed only to be observant. No wonder the artist’s ceramics, at once classic and contemporary in form, are sought after as much today as when they were first made.

Diane De Grazia

Claude Conover’s work can often be found on E-Bay or through reference-base websites like architonic.com, askart.com, artnet.com or 1stdibs.com

 

Cleveland Arts Prize
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