Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2011

Courtesy of Armstrong’s Gallery

One of the most influential movements in modern ceramics got its start when Paul Soldner dropped a bowl. In 1960, Soldner was an art professor in California experimenting with a 16th-century Japanese pottery method known as raku—low-fired, lead-glazed ceramics, commonly used for the tea ceremony, which are finished by immersion in cold water. While carrying a bowl from his kiln to a nearby pond, Soldner accidentally dropped it in a pile of leaves. The smoky fire that erupted gave the piece an irregular gray-black finish—and changed the artist’s life. Soldner, who died last month at age 89, went on to perfect a method now known as American raku. Critics found in the spontaneity of this new form an echo of Japanese aesthetics and an affinity with the spirit of jazz. “His life and work inspired an entire generation in our close-knit world of ceramics,” wrote David Armstrong, a former student who founded the American Museum of Ceramic Art in California. “The art world has forever been changed with his pioneering endeavors.” Soldner himself described American raku as “pottery made within a mental framework of expectation, the discovery of things not sought.”

Born April 24, 1921 in Summerville, Ill., died January 3, 2011 in Claremont, Calif.

Sources: David Armstrong (www.armstronggallery.net); The Los Angeles Times; The New York Times