In the post-WWII studio ceramics movement, American potters evolved clay into an expressive art form, free from the confines of function or industrial production. Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection showcases the ceramic collection of New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) director emeritus John Bullard.

Selections from this promised gift to the museum, comprised of close to 500 works by 235 artists in total, is on view November 4, 2017 through summer 2018 in the Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation Gallery on the museum’s second floor. Featuring 77 works from 33 artists, Personalities in Clay will be accompanied by vintage video footage showing potters engaged in the mesmerizing process of working clay.

E. John Bullard at home in New Orleans, April 2017. Photo by Chris Granger.

Erik Gronborg, American, b. Denmark 1931; Charger with a Pontiac Tempest, circa 1968; Earthenware, 6 x 15 x 15 in.

Wayne Higby, Landscape Bowl, circa 1984;Earthenware

Robert Sperry, American, 1927–1998; Charger No. 759, 1986; Stoneware, 3 1/2 x 27 x 27 in.

“John Bullard expertly lad the New Orleans Museum of Art for 35 years. His clear vision positioned NOMA as the premier fine arts institution in New Orleans,” said Susan Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA. “John’s joyous, creative approach to art is clear from his accomplishments at NOMA, and is represented in his passion for American studio ceramics, which we are delighted to showcase in this exhibition.”

The exhibition and catalogue Personalities in Clay chart the major figures in handmade American studio pottery from 1940 to the end of the 20th century. During this era’s revolution in clay, potters and teachers like Peter Voulkos and Marguerite Wildenhain elevated ceramics from a medium of decorative, functional vessels, to one compatible with expressive fine arts. With a strong network of education, experiments in innovative techniques, and myriad creative voices taking to individual clay production, American potters redefined ceramic’s potential as a potent, expressive medium.

We used the title of this project, Personalities in Clay, to reference the wild variety of ceramic expression you see in John's collection. Mel Buchanan, NOMA's RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design

Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection is organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art. The exhibition is supported by Catherine Burns Tremaine and Drs. Howard and Joy Osofsky.

Exhibition-Related Programming
Special events: “Decoding Contemporary Clay,” a lecture by Garth Johnson, Curator of Ceramics, Arizona State University Art Museum, takes places on Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 6 PM in NOMA’s Stern Auditorium. NOMA will host the American Ceramics Circle Symposium on Nov 3 and 4, 2017; NOMA will host an Educator Workshop: Science of Clay on November 14, 2017.

Noontime Talks: Curator Mel Buchanan will lead a noontime talk on the exhibition on Wednesday, January 3, 2018; E. John Bullard will lead a noontime talk on Wednesday, January 10, 2018.

Friday Nights at NOMA: Curator Mel Buchanan will lead a gallery talk on Friday, January 5, 2018; E. John Bullard will lead a gallery talk on Friday, January 12, 2018. NOMA will host an artist perspective with Biloxi artist Kevin O’Keefe Friday, January 26, 2018. The “Drawings in Clay: Sgraffito Technique with Rachael DePauw” workshop takes place on Friday, January 5, 2018.

The exhibition is accompanied by Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection, a full-color, 104-page catalogue, published by NOMA. The catalogue highlights significant work with a 2-page spread for each of 32 artists in the exhibition, features an essay by John Bullard on his approach to collecting, and is anchored by an essay by Mel Buchanan, NOMA’s RosaMary Curator of Decorative Arts & Design that situates the context of the studio ceramics movement.

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The Arts Council of New Orleans

The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.


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Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.


As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

Southern Food

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

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The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.



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