The Stonewares of Charles Fergus Binns: Father of American Studio Ceramics

April 18 - July 23, 1998

The special exhibition The Stonewares of Charles Fergus Binns: The Father of American Studio Ceramics will feature approximately 110 stoneware vases, jars, bottles and bowls created by Dr. Binns while he was at Alfred, pieces dating between 1905 and 1934. Binns is commonly referred to as the "Father of American studio ceramics." This title reflects not only his creation of unique, virtuous stoneware pots in the Arts & Crafts style, but additionally acknowledges his accomplishment of bringing vital information about ceramic clay bodies and glaze recipes to the lay person, thereby laying the foundation of the flourishing studio ceramics movement in the United States that began in the early 1900's.

In 1900, New York Governor Teddy Roosevelt signed a bill establishing the New York State School of Clay-Working and Ceramics (now the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University). Binns was appointed as the founding Director at that time and held the position for more than thirty years until his retirement in 1931. Referred to on campus as "Daddy" Binns, he is best known for his classic pots with rich monochrome glazes, but one example of his prolific writing, a book titled The Potter's Craft, has been reprinted three times since the first edition in 1910. This exhibition will present an estimated one-quarter of the lifetime production of Binns's pottery, and will feature loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Newark Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, as well as more than forty private loans and the sixty pieces from the permanent collection of the Museum in Alfred.

Binns was born in England in 1857 where his father was a co-managing director of the Royal Worcester Porcelain Works. At age 14, Binns was apprenticed at the "works" and is known to have decorated several dessert plates two years later. While his primary positions at the Royal Worcester factory were administrative, he became a recognized scholar and lecturer concerning world ceramics. He accompanied the Royal Worcester exhibit to the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, and made the United States his home a few years later. This exhibition chronicles his life as a ceramic artist and scientist in the United States beginning with pieces he designed for Lenox China in about 1899. The exhibit features 110 unique, wheel-made vases, jars and bowls from his years at Alfred. His earliest existing stoneware creations, signed and dated 1905,are included, and the ceramics span his entire life, concluding with a bisqued vase which is signed and dated 1934, but was unglazed and unfired at the time of his death.

In order to fully appreciate Binns' designation as the Father of American studio ceramics, related archival information and memorabilia will accompany the exhibit, including his handwritten clay and glaze notebooks, published books and articles, pottery making tools, awards and medals, glass lantern slides he used in teaching, and historic photographs. Binns was influenced by his twenty-five years at the Royal Worcester Porcelain Works, his father's love for ceramics, his own interest in the stonewares of the French artist-potters, and his admiration for Oriental technical knowledge, form and glazes. He influenced and indeed probably caused the advancement of the American studio pottery movement both by the creation of his own unique glazed stoneware vessels and even more importantly by his enthusiasm for teaching others about the balance between art and science, especially in evening and summer school sessions. His own experimentation and sharing of knowledge concerning clay sources and glaze formulae and his prolific writings made his information easily accessible to everyone.

The American studio pottery movement is firmly established, thanks to people like Binns. This exhibit chronicles a key part of its history, through the largest display of Binns's pottery ever shown. The visitor can clearly and easily focus on Charles Fergus Binns as a maker of classic pots with rich, monochrome glazes. In these pots the visitor will see a reflection of the past, present and future of ceramics in the United States.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Margaret Carney, founding director of the International Museum of Ceramic Art. She also serves as chief curator for the Museum. A book titled Charles Fergus Binns: The Father of American Studio Ceramics, including a catalogue raisonne, is being published by Hudson Hills Press in conjunction with the special exhibit, and will be available in April 1998, at the time of the exhibit opening. To order go to publications. A portion of the exhibit will then travel to five other sites in the United States between September 1998 until the year 2000. See Binns Traveling Exhibition for details.

The exhibition and publication are in anticipation of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the New York State College of Ceramics. Generous funding was received from the Arthur and Lea Powell Foundation in support of this special project.