Object of the Week: Vase by Harrison McIntosh
Posted on: 2020-09-25 11:55:39
Harrison McIntosh (1914-2016) was born in Vallejo, California, and became enamored with the arts at a young age. He developed a love of painting when his brother Robert was accepted to the Art Center College of Design in 1937. The McIntosh family relocated from Vallejo to Los Angeles to allow Robert to pursue a painting career, and this change of location was integral to McIntosh’s artistic growth, as he discovered his passion for ceramics in LA. The family hired architect Richard Neutra to construct their new home, and young McIntosh jumped at the opportunity to assist Neutra in the design. He suggested that the family add a garage to the layout, and this space later became his pottery studio. In 1939, McIntosh visited the San Francisco World’s Fair, where he saw Japanese ceramics as well as the folk art pavilion. This experience, and his interaction with Los Angeles ceramists, solidified McIntosh’s interest in the field.
McIntosh’s first exhibition was in downtown Los Angeles at Bullock’s Wilshire department store. Around this time, he attended night classes at the University of Southern California to hone his pottery skills under the tutelage of ceramist Glen Lukens. Through exhibitions, classes, and professional connections, McIntosh developed a close-knit community of midcentury ceramic artists. This early part of his career was full of collaborations, discussions, exhibitions, and friendships, especially with potters Otto and Gertrud Natzler.
World War II abruptly interrupted McIntosh’s blossoming pottery career. In 1943, he was drafted by the US military and served as a medic overseas for the duration of the war. Despite his time away, McIntosh’s love for pottery and sculpture did not wither. Upon returning to the US, he studied ceramics at Scripps College and Claremont College. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, McIntosh learned about the qualities of porcelain, perfected his hand-throwing technique, and dove into the business world of ceramics. In 1949, he met fellow ceramist Rupert “Rummy” Deese, with whom he would later share a studio space and kiln. In the 1960s and 1970s, McIntosh, along with his wife and business partner Marguerite, consulted on commercial glass and ceramic designs for corporations such as Pipe and Ceramics Corporation, Metlox Manufacturing Company, and the Japan-based Mikasa Company.
McIntosh and Marguerite cited various artistic influences, including Swedish pottery, Danish industrial design, ancient Greek pottery, Japanese printmaking, and patterns found in nature. Inspiration for his simplified geometric designs came from his home garden and succulent collection. Critics described McIntosh’s style as minimalist, balanced, harmonic, and timeless. In interviews, he spoke on the emotive power of his work, stating, “Mostly, I hope people feel that my work has a serene quality.” Vase, in the Everson’s collection, embodies these qualities of proportion, mechanical perfection, serenity, and balance. The bulbous, stoneware vase has a reddish-brown body, short neck, and upturned lip. The impeccably smooth surface is glazed in blue-green matte with vertical, white palm leaf shapes. The subtle, repetitive design, which alternates between white and green verticals, can easily mesmerize a viewer. Ceramists were attracted to the hypnotic nature of McIntosh’s work and praised his sensuous lines, muted color palette, and graphic shapes.
The quiet, cohesive aesthetic found in Vase was integral to McIntosh’s pottery in the last decades of his career. In the 1990s, McIntosh began to lose his eyesight due to glaucoma and macular degeneration. This did not hinder his work, and he continued producing minimalist ceramics from his Claremont, California studio well into the early 2000s.
Vase is currently on display in A Legacy of Firsts: The Everson Collects, an exhibition that examines over one hundred years of the Museum’s collecting priorities, from the Museum’s earliest acquisitions in 1911 to work acquired in 2019.
-Tyler Valera, Curatorial Intern
Image Caption: Harrison McIntosh, Vase, ca. 1959, stoneware, 13½ x 15½ inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase, 21st Ceramic National, 1960, 60.76.
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