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 Don (Donald) Reitz  (1929 - 2014)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin/Arizona      Known for: ceramic pottery, illustration, public murals, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Donald Reitz
from Auction House Records.
Massive glazed stoneware "Tea Stack," Alfred, NY, 1968
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"Don Reitz: Clay, Fire, Salt, and Wood"
by Jody Clowes

Fearless improvisation and revival in American studio ceramics.

Don Reitz is recognized as one of the most important and influential ceramic artists of this century.  Trained at Alfred University in the early 1960s, Reitz has pursued a life-long investigation of salt and wood firing of his ceramic pieces in order to preserve the energy and freshness of his artistic marks and gestures.  Finding that the texture and unpredictability of salt-firing suited his work, Reitz almost single-handedly revived this neglected technique, and through long experimentation developed a range of colors and surface effects previously unknown in salt-firing.

Juggling and manipulating the variables in each firing, Reitz is a virtuoso who relishes knowing what he can control and what he cannot.  His work maintains a fine balance between technical mastery and improvisation.  The Elvehjem Museum of Art (Now Chazen Museum of Art) retrospective features some seventy-four ceramic works that Reitz created between 1960 and the present.

Don Reitz taught in the University of Wisconsin–Madison art department from 1962 to 1988.  In 2002 he received one of the highest honors in his field when the American Craft Council awarded him their Gold Medal.  Jody Clowes is an independent art scholar and exhibition curator.

This title was distributed for the Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin–Madison


BORN:  1929     Sunbury, Pennsylvania

1962   MFA, New York State School of Ceramics, Alfred University, Alfred, NY
1957   BS, Art Education, Kutztown State College, Kutztown, Pennsylvania

1990-         Professional Artist, Clarkdale, Arizona
1962-88     University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
1962-62     Alfred University, Alfred, New York
1957-60     Dover Public Schools, Dover, New Jersey

Named Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Named Fellow, Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters
Honored in Ceramic Monthly Reader’s Roll as “One of twelve greatest living ceramic artists worldwide” 1988 and 2001
Cited by the Maori people of New Zealand and carved on their totem pole for “Distinguished leadership in the dispensing of knowledge to peoples”
Honored as Trustee Emeritus of the American Craft Council
Named Fellow of the World Craft Council
Past President and Fellow of the National Council on Education of Ceramic Arts
Recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts Grant
Honorary Resident and given the key to the City of Henderson, Kentucky
Recipient of the Governor’s Award in the Arts, State of Wisconsin and State of Pennsylvania
Recipient of the Governor’s Award , Himeji City, Japan
Recipient of the first Ceramic Art Award by The American Ceramic Society
Honored Guest of the Vice President of The United States in Washington, D.C.
Recipient of the Aileen Osborn Webb Gold Medal, American Crafts Council’s Highest Award
Recipient of the James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Educator Award
Recipient of the Peter Voulkos Visiting Artist Fellowship Award
Recipient State of Wisconsin Lifetime Achievement Award
Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award – International Ceramic Festival at Aberystwyth, Whales UK
Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award- Watershed Center for the Ceramics Arts, Maine

Himeji City, Japan
Palmerston University, Palmerston North New Zealand
Clay As Art, Rotoruro, New Zealand
Tommerup Brickworks, Odense, Denmark
Banff Center For The Arts, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Auckland Potters Guild, Auckland, New Zealand
Artist League, Perth, Australia
Canadian Arts Council, Calgary, Canada
Sydney College, Sydney, Australia
Yeoju, Korea
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
Canadian Potters Guild, Toronto, Canada
Sheridan School of Design, Port Credit, Ontario Canada
Anderson Ranch Art Center, Aspen, Colorado
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Greenwich House, New York, New York
University of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, Arizona
University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, Indiana
University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii
Mills College, Oakland, California
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska
Penland School of Arts and Crafts, Penland, North Carolina
Peters Valley Craft School, Layton, New Jersey
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
92nd Street  Y.M.C.A., New York, New York
Parsons School of Design, Lake Placid, New York
Archie Bray Foundation Voulkos Residency

Arkansas Arts Center, Littlerock, Arkansas
Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona
Elvehjem Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
Milwaukee Museum of Art, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Mint Museum of Craft and Design, Charlotte, North Carolina
Mudgee Art Museum, Mudgee, Australia
New York State University, Alfred, New York
Nippon Castle Research Center, Himeji, Japan
Palmerston University, Palmerston North New Zealand
Renwick Gallery, Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian Institution, Building of Science and Industry, Washington, D.C.
Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, Minnesota
Weismann Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kutztown State University, Kutztown, PA
Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Erishu Art Museum, Himeji, Japan
Horikodden Art Center, Oslo, Norway
Brandt’s Kloedefabrik, Odenese, Denmark
Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah
Canton Museum  of Art, Canton, Ohio
Gilmore Art Center, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Contemporary Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii
Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, MO
De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
Houston Museum of Art, Houston, TX
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati OH
Udinotti Museum of Figurative Art, Scottsdale, AZ
Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA
The Belger Arts Center, Kansas City, MO
International Sculpture Exhibition, Erishu Art Gallery, Himeji, City, Japan
International Pottery Exhibition, Korno Arty Gallery, Himehi City, Japan
Exhibition, Culturele Raad Gemeentehuis, Roden, Holland
“Art, Design, and Research”, Posio, Findland
International Exhibition, Gallery van Alst, Tilburg, Netherlands
Clay as Art, International Exhibition, Auchland, New Zealand
International Exhibition of Ceramics, Hovikodden Art Center, Oslo, Norway
International Exhibition, Brandt’s Kloedefabrik, Odense,Denmark
Oslo International Ceramics Symposium, Oslo, Norway
International Ceramic Exhibition, Yeoju, Korea
“30 Year of Reitz Clay”, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Manchester Art Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Phoenix Rising, Seattle, Washington
Ceramic National 2000, Everson Museum of Arts, Syracuse, New York
Udinotti Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona
Leedy-Voulkos Gallery, Kansas City, Kansas
Maurine Littleton Gallery, Washington, D.C.
“American Woodfire”, Traveling Exhibition, National Invitational
Cheney Cowles Museum, Spokane, Washington
Navy Pier Show, Chicago, Illinois
Signature Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia
St. Petersburg Art Center, St. Petersburg, Florida
Roswell Visual Art Center, Roswell, Georgia
“Contemporary Clay: Master Teachers/Master Students”
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio
The Clay Studio, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
International Woodfire Exhibition, Museum of Art, Iowa City, Iowa
Artables Gallery, Houston, Texas
Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee
North Harris Community College, Houston, Texas
Indigo Fine Art Gallery, Boca Raton, Florida
“Beyond Serving” Invitational, Moira James Gallery, Greenville, Nevada
Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah
“Hands on the Goddess” Armstrong’s Gallery, Pomona, California
“Centered in Clay” Potters Council, The St. Petersburg Clay Company, St. Petersburg, Florida
Ceramic Mural, 10’ x 15’, Performing Arts Center, Chandler, Arizona
Ceramic Wall, 10’ x 40’, Nippon Castle Research Center, Hemji City, Japan
Two Wall Sculptures, 10’x36’, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Wall Sculpture, 14’x20’, Waunakee Elementary School, Waunakee, Wisconsin


Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke, West Vancouver, Canada

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist.

Don Reitz, Who Made Dirt and Salt Into Art, Dies at 84

MARCH 29, 2014

Don Reitz, an internationally renowned artist in dirt and salt, died on March 19 at his home in Clarkdale, Ariz. He was 84.

The apparent cause was heart failure, said Leatrice Eagle, a longtime friend.

A ceramicist — with typical puckish pragmatism he preferred to describe his chosen medium as dirt instead of clay — Mr. Reitz was one of a small cadre of mid-century artisans who expanded the medium to include immense, intellectually provocative works of abstract art.

At his death, he was an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he taught for a quarter-century before his retirement in 1988. His work is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and elsewhere.

When Mr. Reitz began his craft in the early 1960s, ceramics more or less equaled pots, plates and pitchers. Influenced by the prevailing cultural winds, which were sweeping away figurative approaches from other areas of art, he and a few colleagues — notably Peter Voulkos, who died in 2002, and Rudy Autio — wrestled clay off the dinner table.

Where Mr. Reitz had been trained to make pots on a wheel, glaze them delicately and fire them to a genteel finish, his work soon assumed a muscular anarchy. No longer content to rely on the wheel alone, he pushed, pulled, prodded, punched, pinched and poked mountains of clay into vast abstract forms, often incising them with markings that were as essential to the finished piece as the construction itself.

He was known in particular for reviving the centuries-old technique of salt firing, in which salt added to a hot kiln yields textured surfaces far different from those made with conventional glazes.

Mr. Reitz’s style was characterized by “a kind of tension between a respect for classical pottery form and a really kind of brash, impetuous approach to working with wet clay,” Jody Clowes, the curator of “Don Reitz: Clay, Fire, Salt and Wood,” a touring exhibition of 2005, said in an interview on Friday.

“He would work with forms that you can take back to Chinese or Egyptian ceramics and see similar proportions,” Ms. Clowes said. “He really was a classicist in that sense. And yet, he really was part of this 1960s ‘Let’s dig deep in the mud and see what happens’ approach.”

If dirt led Mr. Reitz to salt, then meat led him to dirt.

Donald Lester Reitz was born on Nov. 7, 1929, in Sunbury, Pa., and reared in Belvidere, N.J. Dyslexic, he preferred working with his hands to schoolwork.

Enlisting in the Navy in 1948, he spent five years as a salvage diver and afterward plied a series of trades — truck driver, sign painter — before settling into a career as a butcher.

“In a way, it is an art,” Mr. Reitz wrote in a 1991 autobiographical essay in the magazine Ceramics Monthly. “You have to know how to cut and display your product, everything from putting bootees on lamb chops to arranging a crown roast. I could cut rosettes on a ham so that when it was baked, they opened up in beautiful patterns.”

But with time, he began to chafe among the meat. Enrolling at Kutztown State Teacher’s College in Pennsylvania, he studied painting; after earning a bachelor’s degree in art education there in 1957, he taught in the Dover, N.J., public schools.

Mr. Reitz had discovered ceramics in his last semester of college, and that, he soon realized, was his true calling. Installing a wheel in his house and a kiln outside it, he began making pots, which he attempted to sell at a roadside stand

No one stopped until he also began offering homegrown vegetables. People bought the vegetables, and he gave them the pots at no charge.

From the New York State College of Ceramics, part of Alfred University in western New York, Mr. Reitz earned a master of fine arts degree in 1962. He joined the Wisconsin faculty that year.

At Alfred, he had happened upon salt firing by chance, when he saw a professor sitting near a kiln, interrupting contented puffs on a corncob pipe long enough to open the kiln door and toss in salt. Burning off, the salt formed sodium vapor, which reacted with the silica in the clay to make a pebbled brownish glaze.

“I will never forget the rush I felt when I threw in my first handful of salt,” Mr. Reitz wrote. “It started to snap, crackle and pop, and burned little holes in my shirt.”

At the time, salt firing, conceived in the Middle Ages and still used in Europe, was little known in the United States. More than anyone else, Mr. Reitz is credited with helping revive the technique in American ceramics.

Unlike traditional glazing — done by applying a paintlike substance to unfired clay — salt firing, Mr. Reitz realized, would not obscure his incised marks. He enhanced salt’s alchemy further by coating pieces with a range of metal oxides before firing them, which let him achieve blues, greens and ochers.

He enhanced it still further by flinging into the kiln almost anything that came to hand.

“He was a really fearless experimenter,” Ms. Clowes said. “He would throw all kinds of stuff in there — anything from copperplate to banana peels — and see what happened.”

Mr. Reitz’s later work was born of adversity. In 1982, he was seriously injured in a car crash; at the same time, his 5-year-old niece, Sara, began treatment for cancer.

Convalescing, Mr. Reitz began exchanging drawings with his niece. The simplicity of her work informed his own: in his art from this period, he used clay as a canvas, painting flat, platterlike pieces with vivid colors and deceptively childlike designs.

“I couldn’t work the clay as much,” Mr. Reitz told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1992. “So I had to rely on color. Working with color helped me to heal.” He recovered sufficiently to resume large-scale projects.

Mr. Reitz’s first marriage, to Johanna Denker, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Paula Rice. Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Brent and Donna, and his niece, now grown.

Among his honors are a gold medal from the American Craft Council, the organization’s highest award.

To the end of his life, Mr. Reitz spoke with awe at the primitive abandon his profession afforded.

“Here I am, 78 years old, working in mud,” he said in a 2008 interview. “And people pay me for it.”

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