Known for her hand-built porcelain forms, Paula Winokur (b. 1935, Philadelphia, PA) references her strong interest in geological forms such as cliffs, ledges, crevices and canyons. More importantly her work suggests the passage of time and its effect on these types of formations, whether caused by water, wind, earthquakes or other natural phenomena. Her choice of porcelain echoes the subject matter of her forms. Winokur states, “I have chosen to work with this clay because it has allowed me to explore issues in the landscape without necessarily making literal interpretations. It can be minimal and sometimes surreal in its starkness.”1
Winokur began her academic career with a focus on painting. During her sophomore year at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, she took a course with the ceramist Rudolph Staffel and began working in clay. Initially exposed to stoneware thrown on kick wheels, Winokur was influenced by British ceramist Bernard Leach and Japanese master Shoji Hamada, among others. It was after she spent a summer at Alfred University with her husband Robert Winokur, that the couple moved to Ashfield, Massachusetts, where they started Cape Street Pottery. They sold functional ceramic work from their studio until Robert received a teaching position at Tyler School of Art in 1966.
In 1970, under the influence of work by Ken Ferguson and Warren Mackenzie, Winokur began to experiment with Grolleg porcelain. Her first work in this material included a series of box forms inspired by dreams and inner spirituality. The epiphany for a major change in her work came in 1982 after attending a workshop in Portland, Oregon. On her return flight home, Winokur became mesmerized by aerial views of the Rocky Mountains. Her focus began to change from the internal to the external by studying the actual landscape.
Subsequent travels to archeological cliffs of Mesa Verde, Colorado, the standing stones at Salisbury Plain and Avebury in England, and glaciers of Alaska were transformative in the development of her work. Experiencing the size and scale of the mountains and glaciers in these locales in person encouraged Winokur to increase the size of her work while simultaneously exploiting the natural delicacy of handling porcelain, including its tendency towards cracking and capturing its textural qualities without the need for glazes.
Her most recent body of work is influenced by a trip to Iceland in 2006, where the artist witnessed several receding glaciers in various states. In response, Winokur created several pieces that interpret these features. Her work has gradually become more political in nature, wanting to convey her concern about climate change through these large-scale pieces, calling the viewer’s attention to the ominous impact of the loss of glacial ice on the planet.
Winokur has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She is Professor Emerita at Arcadia University in Glenside, where she taught for 30 years. She served on the Board of Directors at National Council in Education for the Ceramic Arts; The Clay Studio, Philadelphia; President of the Alumni Association at Tyler School of Art; and the International Academy of Ceramics. She is currently on the Board of Trustees for the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts. Winokur has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Leeway Foundation.
Her work has found its way into many collections, including: the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; Design Museum, Helsinki, Finland; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii; Mint Museum of Crafts & Design, Charlotte, NC, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Jingdezhen Ceramic Art Institute, China; Renwick Gallery, Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; The Philadelphia Convention Center Art Collection; The International Ceramic Studio, Kecskemet, Hungary; Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts, Montreal, Canada, Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY; Connecticut State College Ceramic Collection; Arizona State University, Ceramics Collection, Tempe, AZ; Utah Museum of Art, Salt Lake City, UT; Alberta Potters Association, Calgary, Canada; Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington, DE; and Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Major solo exhibitions include: Contemporary Crafts, Portland, OR (1976); College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA (1980); Napa Valley College, California (1991); Long Island University, Southampton, NY (1995); Clay Art Center, Port Chester, New York, NY (2003); The Contemporary Museum Honolulu, HI (2004); Design Museum, Helsinki, Finland (2005); Arcadia University, Glenside, PA (2006); and Goggleworks Art Gallery, Reading, PA (2008). Between 1978 and 1999, Helen Drutt: Philadelphia represented Winokur.
Winokur’s work has been included in several pivotal group exhibitions such as: 23rd Ceramic National, Everson Museum, NY (1964); Crafts’70 American Crafts Council, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA (1970); Opening Exhibition: Helen Drutt Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (1974); Baroque’74, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, NY (1974); Philadelphia: 300 Years of American Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (1976); American Porcelain, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC (1980); Dionyse International, Ghent, Belgium (1981); Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, a traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY (1986); Contemporary Philadelphia Artists, Philadelphia Museum of Art (1990); A Decade of Craft: Recent Acquisitions, American Craft Museum, NY (1992); NCECA Endowment Exhibition, Strong Museum, Rochester, NY (1996); East & West & South: International Ceramics Symposium, Tolgyfa Gallery, Budapest, Hungary (1996); Ceramics from the International Ceramics studio, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Wales (1997); First Yixing Ceramic Invitational, Yixing, China (1998); NCECA Honors & Fellows Exhibition, Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art (1998);International Biennial, Ichon, Korea (2001); Poetics of Clay, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Designmeuseo, Helsinki, and Houston Center for Contemporary Crafts (2001 to 2003); 2002 Fellows Exhibition: Contemporary Crafts Gallery, Portland, OR (2002); NCECA Invitational: Earth Matters, Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, PA (2010); Foregrounding the Palisades, Wave Hill and Hudson River Museum, New York, NY (2012); Structure and Form, Gravers Lane Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (2015); and Ceramics Invitational, Abington Art Center, Jenkintown, PA (2015).
1 Oral History Interview with Paula Colton Winokur, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, 2011 July 21–22, www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interviewpaula-colton-winokur-15988