Alfred University News

Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition, catalogue of Robert A. Ellison Jr. collection confirms Alfred University’s vital place in history of contemporary ceramic art

John Gill, Ewer, Shapes from Out of Nowhere, 2021 Catalogue Cover
John Gill, Ewer, Shapes from Out of Nowhere, 2021 Catalogue Cover

The Metropolitan Museum of Art this week opened the ceramic art exhibit Shapes from Out of Nowhere together with an accompanying volume of photographs that features the work of trailblazing 20th and 21st century ceramic artists, including numerous artists who have studied and taught at Alfred University.


NEW YORK - The Metropolitan Museum of Art this week opened the ceramic art exhibit Shapes from Out of Nowhere together with an accompanying volume of photographs that features the work of trailblazing 20th and 21st century ceramic artists, including numerous artists who have studied and taught at Alfred University.

The works comprising the exhibition and ceramic art collection of Robert Ellison Jr. bring into focus the early years of the modernist revolution in ceramic art and highlight concepts of abstraction that extend through the post WWII era to the present.

The exhibition and catalogue also confirm the vital role Alfred University teachers and students have played in the history of contemporary ceramic art.

Ellison is a painter who moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to New York City in the early 1960’s. He has donated his 125-piece collection to the Metropolitan in honor of its 150th anniversary.

His collection includes the work of two current Alfred University ceramic artists and teachers, John Gill and Wayne Higby, and the catalogue features on its cover a ceramic ewer by Gill, whose art Ellison discovered at the Borgenicht Gallery, in New York City, which was known for showing paintings. “I fell for his highly inventive shapes, his fantastical ewer forms,” Ellison writes. “It is a pleasure to view the results of his profound shape making.”

 The Ellison collection also includes work by the late William Parry and Robert Turner, both emeriti professors at Alfred University, as well as numerous ceramic artists who studied at the School of Art and Design and received MFAs from Alfred University. The MFA group includes Kim Dickey, Gary Erickson, Chris Gustin, Ken Price, Stanley Rosen, Chris Staley, Arnold Zimmerman, and Ken Ferguson.

Seven other artists represented in Ellison’s collection also have connections to Alfred University: Peter Voulkos, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University in 1998; also Robert Arneson, Howard Kottler, Jim Melchert and Paul Soldner, former visiting artists at the University. The artists Ruth Duckworth and Betty Woodman both taught one semester in the Ceramic Art Division of the School of Art and Design, and Woodman studied at the School of American Craftsmen, located at Alfred University before it was relocated to the Rochester Institute of Technology. Twenty-eight artists in the Ellison collection are also represented by one or more pieces in the collection of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum.

 “The inclusion of so many Alfred artists in the Ellison exhibition and catalogue is a testament to the enduring legacy and resonance of ceramic art at Alfred University,” says Higby, who also serves as Director of ACAM. “The dynamic education so many artists experienced in our studios and class rooms lives on here today and reaches beyond our borders, inspiring the making of significant ceramic art around the globe.”

  John Gill describes the Ellison collection as “a language of ceramic art, and the formation of this language is something Alfred University teachers and students have contributed to since the formation of the College of Ceramics in the early 20th century.” Gill notes that he received his own MFA at Alfred University and adds: “I was lucky to have great teachers at Alfred, fabulous students, and the fabulous Scholes Library. I was lucky to have associations with fabulous engineering students and teachers in the College of Ceramics. When you look at Alfred University – and you can see part of the University in microcosm in the Ellison collection – you see how this school has been a great place to explore what ceramics can do.”

 The exhibition Shapes from out of Nowhere is located in Gallery 913 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at 1000 Fifth Ave, NYC. It will be on display through Aug. 29, 2021.