It is easy to assess Paul Soldner's impact on contemporary ceramics as an artist and inventor because the evidence is there: his work has been exhibited and collected from London to Kyoto; his kick and electric wheels, clay mixers, and fuel-efficient burners are used by potters from Portland to Peoria. But it is as a teacher that Soldner has had his most lasting effect on contemporary art in clay. Along with his mentor, Peter Voulkos, who has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1957, Soldner helped shift the momentum of innovative ceramics from the East Coast to the West Coast during the mid-1960s. At Scripps College, where he has taught for thirty years, Soldner created a major center of ceramic study that has provided hundreds of students-undergraduate and graduate-with a rich education. Under Soldner's direction, the Scripps program has produced an astonishing array of leading ceramicists and sculptors. Equally impressive is the variety of their work; all have developed distinctive styles.

In retrospect, it seems extraordinary that Soldner's one-man program has made Scripps such a powerful ceramic center, but since 1956 he has been the magnet that has drawn young ceramists to the school. During the 1960s, Scripps emerged as an exciting alternative to the traditional ceramics programs at such institutions as Alfred University, which emphasized commercial ceramics over fine arts. The students who subsequently came to Scripps found in Soldner an artist who is nationally acknowledged but personally accessible, a teacher whose ideas were definite but not doctrinaire. He has broadened his students' perspective by teaching contemporary ceramics through discussions of work in the Marer Collection-one of the finest ensembles of contemporary American ceramics-which Soldner helped bring to Scripps.

Clearly, Soldner has enriched the world with his multiple talents as an artist, inventor, and teacher. But ultimately, it is as a teacher, who has inspired a younger generation of artists to become themselves, that Soldner has left his most enduring legacy.






Pedestal Piece (84-28), 1984 wheel-thrown and altered, raku clay, polychrome slips, iron and copper oxide brushwork, low-temperature salt-vapor fired cone, cone 08, 17x 13x5in. Fred & Estelle Marer Collection, Los Angeles Photo: Paul Soldner

Organized by Scripps College In Claremont, Paul Soldner: A Retrospective consists of seventy-six works spanning Soldner's distinguished career as one of America's leading ceramics artists. The exhibit will be on view at the American Craft Museum in New York from July 18 through September 5 and will then travel to the Lowe Art Museum in Florida (October 3-November 21), and the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado (December 12, 1993-January 30, 1994). This essay is excerpted from the exhibition catalog article, "Soldner the Teacher" by Mary Davis McNaughton, director of the Lang Gallery, Scripps College.