Peter Voulkos - Design New York Tuesday, December 7, 2021 | Phillips
  • In 1902, largely inspired by the settlement house movement in England, Greenwich House was established in New York City in an effort to assist the neighborhood’s immigrant population acclimate to their new home. In its early history, the institution provided cultural opportunities for the neighborhood such as music classes, and in 1909, Greenwich House began offering pottery lessons (which it still offers today). Throughout the first half of the 20th century, and as Greenwich Village transformed into an artistic epicenter, this social-service agency became a cultural hub where neighbors could produce their own pottery and even sell their work in some cases. In 1945, Jane Hartsook became the director, and over the next four decades, she transformed Greenwich House Pottery by inviting artists in residence who led workshops and lectures for the community.


    Ceramists such as Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada visited in 1952; as Hartsook said in a 1995 interview, though, it was Peter Voulkos’ visits from 1960 to 1964 that “put Greenwich House on the map.” Just as the regular adult students at Greenwich House benefitted from Voulkos’ summer visits, the relationship was symbiotic. In a letter that he wrote to Hartsook in 1960, he thanked her for inviting him, saying: “You may perceive a note of desperateness in my query which I assure you it is…Anyway, I wish to thank you again for the deal and the dough, which I needed so much at that time.” He went on to propose leading three-to-four-week seminars in future summers, even—in his joking way—offering to teach classes such as “throwing with your nose.” Hartsook took Voulkos up on his offer and invited him back over the next four summers; she also connected him to organizers at Teacher’s College at Columbia University where he also taught classes during those years.


    The present and following lot are pieces that Voulkos likely made during his demonstrations in the summers of 1962 and 1964, respectively, which he subsequently gifted to Greenwich House Pottery. The two works are not only closely linked to an important era within Voulkos’ personal and artistic life, but, from a formalist perspective, they perfectly represent the groundbreaking work happening within the world of American ceramics in the late 1950s and early 1960s.


    Peter Voulkos leading a demonstration at Greenwich House Pottery, 1962. Image courtesy: Greenwich House Pottery.
    Peter Voulkos leading a demonstration at Greenwich House Pottery, 1962. Image courtesy: Greenwich House Pottery.

    In a 1961 issue of Craft Horizons, editor Rose Slivka put words to a new direction within the centuries- long history of ceramics: “Today, the classical form has been subjected and even discarded in the interests of surface…There are three extensions of clay as paint in contemporary pottery: 1) The pot form is used as a ‘canvas’; 2) the clay itself is used as paint three-dimensionally—with tactility, color, and actual form; 3) form and surface are used to oppose each other rather than complement each other in their traditional harmonious relationship—with color breaking into and defining, creating, destroying form.” The present vessel form, which Peter Voulkos executed just one year after Slivka’s article, exemplifies each of these tenets. 

    "I brush color on to violate the form and it comes out a complete new thing which involves a painting concept on a three-dimensional surface, a new idea."
    —Peter Voulkos

    There are traces of the artist’s almost manic manipulation of his materials: the illuminous blue glaze smattered and dripping at the base; traces of the artist’s fingers dragging across the vessel’s side; sections of clay that look torn away and then reattached. The following lot also represents these characteristics—particularly in the artist’s glaze application—albeit in a slightly more restrained manner. Barbara Paris Gifford, Associate Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, has said that works like these, which Voulkos created between 1960 and 1964—the exact years during which Peter Voulkos spent at Greenwich House Pottery—are his “purest statements of Abstract Expressionist ceramics.”


    The present Voulkos pieces are being sold to benefit Greenwich House Pottery, as it continues to provide rich cultural services to New York City.

    • Provenance

      Gifted by the artist to Greenwich House Pottery, New York

    • Catalogue Essay

      Phillips would like to thank Sam Jornlin, archivist and representative of the Voulkos estate, for her assistance cataloguing the present lot.

      The Buyer of this lot may be entitled to claim a charitable contribution deduction for the hammer price, but such deduction will be limited to the excess of the hammer price paid for the lot over its fair market value. In accordance with applicable IRS regulations, Phillips has provided a good faith estimate of the fair market value for each lot, which is the mean of the pre‐sale estimates relating to that lot. Buyers will have until April 7 2022, inclusively, to indicate to the Greenwich House Pottery in writing, their wish to benefit from this charitable contribution deduction by sending an email to Fabio Fernandez Bidders are advised to consult with their own tax advisors to determine the application of the tax law to their own specific circumstances and whether a charitable contribution deduction is available.

Property Sold to Benefit Greenwich House Pottery, New York


Vase form

Partially glazed slab-built stoneware.
15 3/8 in. (39.1 cm) high
Underside painted in iron oxide Voulkos/64.

Full Cataloguing

$7,000 - 9,000 

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New York Auction 7 December 2021