Howard Kottler's Plates and Politics

Howard Kottler's Plates and Politics

Peace March (1967) by Howard Kottler

Peace March (1967) by Howard Kottler; porcelain blank plate with ceramic decal, approx. 10" diameter 

One look at the work of the late Howard Kottler, and it is evident the witty artist was a surefire renegade in the world of clay. After earning a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in ceramics from Ohio State University, as well as an MFA in ceramics from the Cranbrook Academy, Kottler began experimenting with both handmade and factory-produced ceramic decals and applying them to commercially manufactured porcelain. In spite of the controversy surrounding Kottler’s methods and lack of involvement in the manual production of his work, his plates and cups have been featured in many museum exhibitions, a selection of which are documented in the ACC Library Digital Collections. One example, Peace March (1967), features a perimeter of gun decals pointed at a traversing image of the United States Capitol building. A visitor to Peace March in our image database made this thoughtful comment about the work, “For me, this piece is especially successful because the political message of the plate didn't take priority over aesthetics, and there is plenty of visual intrigue in the baroque pattern made by the crisscrossing foundations of the capitol.”

Throughout the late 1960s to early 1980s Kottler used his decals to convey messages of humorous, sexual, religious, or political themes. An exhibition of Kottler’s plates at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia quotes a statement the artist made back in 1980: “The 1960’s was an unbelievable period in American life. No one can imagine the full extent of the social forces of change at work during this time without living it. On my trips to San Francisco, I experienced the full bloom of hippie life. The Vietnam war, with all its social unrest, had powerful ramifications throughout the U.S. in daily life and in academia. Furthermore, there was a dramatic surge in the Bay Area into funk art, which manifested itself in ceramics through the use of bright colors, erotic images, narrative, and the use of mixed media… It was a direction that worked perfectly for me, and gave me the freedom to let my craziness run amok. I became my own man and expressed my sarcastic wit through images and titles in my artwork.”

Throwback Thursday is a weekly series highlighting visuals from the American Craft Council Library's Digital Collections Database. Check back on Thursdays for more.