Two ceramics shows memorialize Colorado's clay history

Although Colorado has a substantial ceramics scene right now, back in the second half of the twentieth century, the Centennial State was one of the places to be for artists who worked with clay. The cavalcade of international stars active then included Betty Woodman, Paul Soldner, Richard DeVore and that dynamic duo, Jim and Nan McKinnell. With the passing of Nan on August 9 at the age of 99, Woodman, who divides her time between New York and Tuscany, is the only one who is still living.

Nan and Jim (who died in 2009) were gypsy artists who came to Colorado repeatedly after first teaching classes in a rental house in Boulder in 1951 — the same year they met Soldner. After traveling extensively in the United States and Europe, the couple settled permanently in Colorado, in a home and studio they built near Fort Collins in 1970. They also taught at various colleges until they got to Loretto Heights College, where they stayed from 1973 until 1987, the year they both retired from teaching.

During their careers, Jim and Nan were associated with the most important ceramicists of their time, and their work is in museum collections across the country, including the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Ceramic Art, and the Kirkland Museum here in Denver. Though they often collaborated, their work was distinct, with Jim coming out of the craft tradition and Nan more interested in design aesthetics.

Until recently, Nan remained active; her signature work in her later years comprised highly figured, hand-built vessels with a decidedly sculptural character (a favorite piece of hers is pictured). As evidence of her ongoing relevance to the end, two shows that include her work were already being developed when she died. Women of Influence opens on September 13 at the Arvada Center, while Tea Time With Nan McKinnell debuts on September 14 at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins. Both shows will surely serve as ad hoc memorials to this great Colorado artist.

 
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