Karen Karnes: Vessel and Sculpture — A Retrospective

Page 1


A Retrospective

Photography: Luiz Bicalho

Catalog Design: Dawne Osborne

Cover image:

Two Part Tulip Vase with 8 Spouts, ca. 1985-98


10h x 6.50w x 5.50d in

VESSEL and SCULPTURE — A Retrospective KAREN KARNES August 19 - September 9, 2023 25 Main Street, Concord, MA 01742 lucylacoste.com info@lucylacoste.com 1-978-369-0278

Slit Vessel with Lacquered Lid, from A Chosen Path, 1986


8h x 13w x 13d in


It is a true honor to represent Karen Karnes, one of the icons of contemporary ceramics. Born in 1925 in Brooklyn, she came of age with the post-war generation of artists, the seminal growth that set the stage for art in the second half of the 20th century.

Karnes was part of two legendary art communities that focused this energy: Black Mountain College in North Carolina and the Gate Hill community in New York. Black Mountain, led by Josef Albers (previously from the Bauhaus), included students such as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Ruth Asawa and Robert Rauschenberg before they became famous. Karnes then became part of Gate Hill, a cooperative community, for 25 years where she built her studio and kiln, deepened friendships with M.C. Richards, Mikhail Zakin, and met Ann Stannard, who became her lifetime companion.

Her spiritual inspiration as an artist was Shoji Hamada. In terms of her style, it is modernist going straight back to the Bauhaus. The work she made Italy in 1949-51 when she was teaching herself to throw on the wheel is notably contemporary, holding up well today and completely museum level.

This show is a retrospective with specific dates going back to 1980 and assumed dates going back much earlier.

No one makes pots like Karen Karnes.

Yes, she made a lot of pots, she had to—to support herself and her son Abel, whose father, David Weinrib, was Karen’s husband in her early years. I always like to say that all of Karen’s work is sculptural, even when its functional.

While her flameware casseroles were ubiquitous and often copied by others, the majority of her work was distinct to her—a combination of simplicity and 3-D genius that led to turning a vessel into a slit sculpture, a casserole into a winged form, a jar with a floating lid into a poem.


Toward the end of her career, when handling large amounts of clay was difficult, Karen began making the smaller sculptures of 2 or 3 part joined forms which can be viewed as still-life, landscape or figurative compositions.

Karnes started out firing her work with color and salt, then became an early advocate of wood-firing after moving to Vermont. In 1988 a fire sprang from her kiln in Morgan during an exceedingly dry spell, destroying her home and studio. It was rebuilt with the assistance of her many friends in the clay community. This tragedy turned out to be life-affirming due to their support. In her later years, she was able to continue wood-firing by firing with Joy Brown in her wood kiln and Mark Shapiro in his wood/salt kiln.

Never wanting to be a full-time teacher, Karnes was a renowned mentor to younger potters and was a co-founder with Mikhail Zakin of the Old Church Cultural Center (occc) annual pottery sale in Demarest, New Jersey which goes on to this day.

As Zakin said of her friend, “I have never known any artist who has lived her life and made her art with such integrity and with such clear unswerving sense of purpose.”

And paraphrasing what Karnes once said to me: “I am like a whale underwater quietly pulsing along, doing what I do, no matter what obstacles appear in my path.”

Over the span of her career, Karen Karnes exhibited in the leading galleries of the day including Hadler/Rodriguez, NYC; Joan Rapp in Arizona; Garth Clark Gallery, NYC; Habitat/Shaw Gallery, Michigan; and Ferrin Gallery, Massachusetts. It is a pleasure and honor, a responsibility that I do not take lightly, to be the gallerist with whom her remaining outstanding work resides, keeper of the Karen Karnes flame that encompasses both the modernist aesthetic and the humble pot.

Part Tulip Vase, ca. 1990s Stoneware 9.75h
9d in 8

Three Level Flower Container, ca. 1990s


13.25h x 8w x 8d in

Wide-Flanged Vessel with Blue Drip, 1980 Stoneware 10 h x 17 w in 10

Vessel, Tan and White, 2005


8 h x 9 w x 9 d in

Tall Form, Orange (left) and Tall Form, Black and Red Wood-Fired Stoneware, 2005
left: 13 h x 7 w x 4 d in | right: 14.5 h x 7w x 4 d in

Form with Floating Cover, 1981


5h x 16w in

Lidded Form with Cut Lid, ca. 1985 Stoneware 11.5 h x 16 w in 15

Three Tall Forms, 2002

Wood-Fired Stoneware

Left: 18 x 4.25" | Middle: 16.5 x 3.75" | Right: 20 x 4.25"
from Garth Clark Gallery exhibition and catalog, 2004

Large Thrown Bowl, 1990

From Society of Arts and Crafts exhibition celebrating her Medal of Excellence Award


8.25h x 14w in


Lidded Winged Vessel, 2003


7.50h x 21w x 12d in


Lidded Vessel, ca. 1980s


11.75h x 11w in


Tallest Lidded Jar, 1982

(from Karen’s kitchen, survived the fire)


21h x 15w x 15d in


Jar with Carved Lines and Faceted Lid, ca. 1970-1980


5.50h x 5.50w in



Wide Lidded Vessel, ca. 1980s
11h x 14w in
Large Bowl with Blue Interior, Stoneware, 7h x 17w in

Tall Pitcher with Lid

Stoneware, stamped

10.50h x 8.50w x 6d in


Flameware Casserole, Medium Large


9h x 11.50w x 10.75d in


Flameware Casserole, Extra Large


9.75h x 15.75w x 13.50d in


Flameware Casserole, Large


8h x 14w x 11.75d in

Flameware Casserole, Medium


7.75h x 11.25w x 9.50d in


Flameware Casserole, Extra Large Stoneware

10.50h x 13.25w x 11.25d in

Flameware Casserole, Small Stoneware

8h x 9.50w x 8.75d in


Vessel, Tan and White, 2005


8h x 9w x 9d in

Right: Close Friends , 2013 collaboration with Mark Shapiro


8.25h x 7w x 4.25d in


Four Pieces Joined, 2012


6.25h x 8.5w x 6d in

Three Forms Joined, Gray with Blue, 2012 Stoneware
5h x 8w x 8d in

Three Pieces Joined, 2009

Wood-Fired Stoneware with Ash

4.75h x 10.5w x 8.5d in


Three Parts Joined, Red with Ash, 2011

Wood-Fired Stoneware

8.5h x 10.25w x 7.5d in

Three Parts Joined - “Navajo”, 2011

Wood-Fired Stoneware

5.5 h x 18w x 7d in



Born: 1925, New York, New York


1951-1952 Graduate Fellow, New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, Alfred, NY

1946 BA Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

Apprenticeships and Residencies:

1952-1954 Potter in Residence, Black Mountain College, Asheville, North Carolina; 1949-1950 Independent Study, Sesto Fiorentino, Italy


2023 Vessel and Sculpture—A Retrospective, Lucy Lacoste Gallery, Concord MA


2012 A Chosen Path: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes, Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI

2011 In Her Retrospective Year: Karen Karnes Solo, Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA

2011 Traveling Exhibition: Retrospective: A Chosen Path, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH; Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC; Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ (2010)

2009 Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA

2008 Gallerie Besson, London, England

2007 Ferrin Gallery, Lennox, MA

Besson Gallery, London, England

2005 Ferrin Gallery, SOFA, Chicago, IL

2004 Creations in Clay: Contemporary New England Ceramics, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

2003 Karen Karnes – A Life in Clay, Garth Clark Gallery, New York, NY

1987, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1999-2000 Garth Clark Gallery, New York, NY

1999 Clay Studio, Philadelphia, PA

1998 Joanne Rapp Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

1996 Shaw/Guido, Pontiac, MI

1995 Leedy/Voulkos Gallery, Kansas City, MO


1994 Okun Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

1993 Habitat/Shaw Gallery, Farmington Hills, MI

1993 Joanne Rapp Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

1990 Society of Arts & Crafts, Boston, MA

1988 Pewabic Pottery, Detroit, MI

1986 The Hand and the Spirit, Scottsdale, AZ

1981, 1982, 1985 Hadler/Rodriguez Gallery, New York, NY

1977 Hadler Gallery, New York, NY

1973 Karen Karnes: Salt Glazed Ceramics, The Hand Workshop, Richmond, VA

1957 Bonniers, New York, NY

1953 American House Gallery, New York, NY


2015 Leap Before You Look, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA

2013 COLLABORATION / CO / ELABORATION, Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA

2011 SOFA CHICAGO, IL Lacoste Gallery

2009 Karen Karnes, Mark Shapiro: Present Object, Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA

2008 Gallerie Besson, SOFA Chicago, IL

2006 Haystack School of Crafts, Deer Isle, ME

2001 Heroes: Ken Ferguson, Karen Karnes, David Shaner, Garth Clark Gallery, NY

Poetics of Clay, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA

2000 Color and Fire-Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950-2000, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

The Art of Craft – Expressive Works by New Hampshire and Vermont Artists, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

1997-98 Regis Masters Series, Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, MN

1996 Clay, Wood and Fire, Northern Clay Center, St. Paul, MN

1990 Black and White, Joanne Rapp Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ

1989 A Tea Party, Ferrin Gallery, Northampton, MA

1986 Art in Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, American Craft Museum, NY

New England Ceramic Vessels, Westminster Gallery, Boston, MA

1985 High Styles: American Design Since 1900, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

1984 Women in Clay: The Ongoing Tradition, Octagon Center for the Arts, Ames, IA

1981 Fire and Ashes, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA

1979 A Century of Ceramics in the United States, Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY


1978 Craft Art and Religion, The Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy

1969 Objects: USA, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC

25 Years of Ceramic Art in America, Scripps College, CA

1968 American Studio Pottery, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England

1966 Ceramics Arts USA – 1966 Invitational, Washington, DC

The Object Transformed, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

American Craftsman’s Invitational Exhibition, The Henry Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

1964 USA Section of the Thirteenth Triennale, Milan, Italy

Designed for Production: The Craftsman’s Approach, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, NY

1962 22nd Ceramic National, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY

1960 Designer-Craftsmen, USA, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, NY

1959 Ceramics International, Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, New York, NY

Invitational Show, Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven, CT

1974 American Crafts Council Gallery, New York, NY

1972 International Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England

Salt Glazed Ceramics, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, NY

Ceramic National, Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY


American Crafts Museum, New York City, NY

Arizona State University Art Museum, Phoenix, AR

Aukland Museum, Aukland, NZ

Bemidji State University Collection, Bemidji, MI

Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH

Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts, Racine, WI

The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, HI

Cranbrook Museum of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington, DE

Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI

Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY

F.R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota

Johnson Wax Collection of Contemporary Crafts, Racine, WI

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Pittsburgh, PA

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY


Mint Museum of Craft and Design, Charlotte, NC

Museum of Ceramic Art at Alfred, NY

Museum of Fine Arts, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Museum of World Folk Art, La Jolla, CA

Nelson Fine Arts, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, MN

Palmer Museum of Art, PA

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Renwick Gallery, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC

St. Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis, MO

Topeka Public Library, Kansas

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England

Walker Art Center, Kansas City, Kansas

Wichita Center for the Arts, Kansas


1998 Gold Medal, American Crafts Council

1997 Regis Master, Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, MN

Vermont Arts Council Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts

1992 Fletcher Challenge Merit Award, New Zealand

1990 Medal of Excellence, Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, MA

1988 National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Artists Fellowship

Vermont Council on the Arts, Artists Fellowship

1980 National Council on Education in Ceramic Arts Fellowship

1976 National Endowment for the Arts, Craftsmen’s Fellowship

American Crafts Council, Member of Academy of Fellows

1964 Trienale de Milano, Silver Medal

1958 Tiffany Fellowship

Ceramic National, Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY

1950 Ceramic National, Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY

1979 Clark, Garth. A Century of Ceramics in the United States: 1878-1978. Dutton, NY

1977 Troy, Jack. Salt Glazed Ceramics. Watson Guptill

1970 Nordness, Lee. Objects: USA. Viking

1968 Slivka, Rose. The Crafts of the Modern World. Horizon

Speight, Carlotte. Hands in Clay.


Blue Landscape (pair)

Glazed Stoneware, stamped left: 8.5 h x 9.5 w in | right: 9.5 h x 11w in

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