Remembering: Paul Soldner

Remembering: Paul Soldner


Image courtesy of the Soldner family.

Groundbreaking ceramic artist Paul Soldner died at the age of 89 on Monday. The internationally recognized pioneer was instrumental in the evolution of ceramic art. Soldner was often referred to as the "father of American raku," and also known for his innovative work with low-temperature salt firing.

Throughout his career he taught at Claremont Graduate University and Scripps College, where he also curated the annual ceramic exhibition. He was a member of the American Craft Council's College of Fellows, which honors remarkable artists who have significantly contributed to their craft for more than 25 years, and in 2008 Soldner was awarded the organization's Gold Medal for consummate craftsmanship.

In a 1982 profile of Soldner in American Craft, Judith Dunham wrote:

When Soldner first experimented with raku in 1960, his only source was a suggestion in Bernard Leach's seminal publication, A Potter's Book. Initially unsuccessful with his stoneware raku firings, Soldner persisted until he reached the level of refinement, expertise, and control that make his low fire work of the 1960's and 1970's such an impressive achievement. Because little if any documented information was available on raku 20 years ago, Soldner's process relied heavily on creative exploitation of the accident. Researchers frequently ask Soldner for his bibliography on raku, low-fire salt or kiln building. "Sometimes they think I'm playing a game," he says, "when I tell them I followed nothing. There was just a curiosity and observing accidents."

Soldner admits that accidents in art do not evolve and flourish without guidance. "What one does with an accident," Soldner cautions, "is the important thing. If it isn't possible to see the accident in a constructive sense-that is, if one can't grow from it-it will remain an accident."

Soldner told Dunham that a student once asked him why he didn't teach clay history, and he replied, "I'm more interested in making it. Although that sounds egotistical, I am trying to create something that will earn a historical place." And that he did.