Rudolf Staffel

Rudolf Staffel is best known for his groundbreaking work with unglazed porcelain and is often credited with inspiring the wider use of porcelain among studio potters. He called the vessels Light Gatherers, a title that highlights Staffel’s interest in light as a primary artistic subject. The exploration of methods to manipulate and display light drove his artistic journey. It was this dedication to light that led him to work with porcelain in a new way, opening the possibilities of the material to all those who would come after him. As gallery owner and scholar Garth Clark noted, “One cannot reference porcelain in the history of American ceramic art without taking into account Staffel’s contribution as the master of the white medium in its purest artistic form.”1

Staffel was born in 1911 in San Antonio, Texas, where his desire to be an artist was sparked in childhood when his first forays into artistic creation occurred in self-study of Chinese brush painting and experiments with watercolor. This early work foreshadowed his later exploration of the quality of light and its properties in his use of watercolor and loose brushwork. He went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1930s taking classes in painting, drawing and design, and then in New York where he took classes with Hans Hofmann, one of the leading lights of the Abstract Expressionist movement.2

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