A Marguerite Wildenhain Pond Farm Pottery Piece Is Added to Modernica’s Showroom Collection
Marguerite Wildenhain, an internationally known ceramist, author, and teacher, is considered to be one of the most accomplished ceramists in the United States. Her contribution in bringing dignity to the field of clay is considerable. Prior to her time, ceramics in North America had been perceived as less of an art form and more as a means to an end. Wildenhain’s achievements and life’s work elevated North American pottery to the sophisticated craft it is today.
For four decades, Marguerite Wildenhain lived and worked at Pond Farm, an artist’s enclave, located in Guerneville, California. She taught yearly summer sessions from 1949 until her retirement in 1980, and continued to live at Pond Farm until her death in 1985 at the age of 88.
Marguerite Wildenhain was born in France in 1896 of German Jewish descent. The family moved to Berlin when she was a child, and there she attended the School of Fine and Applied Arts. After graduating, she apprenticed as a pattern designer for a porcelain factory. It was there that she decided to study pottery. She soon discovered the newly formed Bauhaus school of art and design, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany. Being very inspired, Wildenhain moved and began studying at the Bauhaus in 1919, where artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Gerhard Marcks were on the faculty. When the Nazi party took majority in parliament, Gropius moved the school to Dessau, Germany in 1925. The pottery department, however, did not follow.
In 1926, Wildenhain took a position as head of the Ceramics Department at the Municipal School of Fine and Applied Arts in the German city of Halle-Saale. Here she remained true to the Bauhaus principle that artists should design quality wares that could be easily mass-produced, thus staying true to their craft as well as being valued members of society. During this time, she developed a collection of models for Royal Berlin and was certified as a master potter by the German government.
In 1930 she married Frans Wildenhain, one of her students. With the growing Nazi power it was necessary for Marguerite and Frans to move to the Netherlands in 1933. There they opened and operated a successful pottery studio in the Dutch village of Putten.
Their studio was called “Het Kruikje” or Little Jug. The little jug became a symbol with which Marguerite would mark her work for years to come. It was also during this period that Marguerite designed dinner and tea sets for a larger factory. Her tableware design earned a second place award at the 1937 art exposition in Paris.
Putten is important in that it was here that the Wildenhains met Gorden and Jane Herr, a couple visiting from San Francisco. The Herrs shared their intention to establish a colony of craftsmen in California, and asked Marguerite and Frans to consider joining them. At the time, the Wildenhains dismissed the idea, but the German invasion of Poland in 1939 prompted Marguerite to write to the Herrs asking about the artist’s community. She received a positive reply and left for America on March 3rd, 1940. Unfortunately, Frans was forced to remain behind due to immigration restrictions.
Upon arriving in America, Marguerite immediately headed to San Francisco and took a position teaching ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. In 1942, after two years of teaching, she resigned from her position and moved to the Herr’s colony, which was now called Pond Farm.
The 250 acres of Pond Farm, which previously had been known as Walker ranch, was purchased by Gordon and Jane Herr in the late 1940′s. The land was rugged and had few amenities. Marguerite lived in a tent while helping Gordon Herr to prepare the site. The work was arduous and difficult. They built a home and converted the old Walker barn into a pottery studio, a showroom, and Herr’s architecture practice.
Marguerite planned the studio and designed the potter’s wheels to her specifications. After five years of construction the site was completed. In 1947, after becoming a U.S. citizen, she was finally able to bring her husband Frans to America. By 1949 other artists, both American and European, began arriving at Pond Farm to study and create.
Pond Farm continued as an artist’s colony until about 1952, when a number of things, including the death of Jane Herr, caused a gradual dispersal of the group. While many of the artists moved away, Marguerite Wildenhain stayed on and continued to teach summer sessions each year. Other times she traveled around the country, teaching seminars and workshops at various schools and institutions.
For over 30 years students came from around the country and the world to study her teachings of “basic and fundamental elements that go into making a good piece of pottery.” During the two-month summer sessions, twenty-some students worked on wheels designed by Wildenhain, based on those used at the Bauhaus. She expected her students to work hard and be dedicated to their craft, and she taught the importance of “grounding your life in your craft and your craft in your life.”
Today, Pond Farm Pottery Studio remains substantially unchanged from its appearance during its active years, the 1940s to 1980. Though it is not open to the public, the entrance can be seen from the road through Austin Creek State Recreation Area.