Pottery Northwest gains nonprofit status in December 1966.

  • By Kate Kershner
  • Posted 7/13/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10139
In December 1966, Pottery Northwest gains status as a nonprofit. A pottery studio and education center, the organization developed out of the Seattle Clay Club (1948-mid-1960s). It is located at Seattle Center in the facility used during the Seattle World's Fair as the Food Circus. Pottery Northwest will move to its current (2012) location in Seattle's lower Queen Anne (226 1st Avenue N) in 1973, under the leadership of longterm director Jean Griffith (b. 1921). It will develop into a regional hub for ceramic arts, including studio space, classes, artist residencies, and a gallery. 

Seattle Clay Club

The Seattle Clay Club, the precursor to Pottery Northwest, held a similar mission to the organization; it was a group dedicated to appreciating the ceramic arts and artists in the area. Members of Ken Glenn's ceramics class at the University of Washington established the Seattle Clay Club in 1948. Jean Griffith, a member of the club and later co-founder and longtime director of Pottery Northwest, recalls that the meetings were casual affairs held informally at members' houses. But a Seattle Times story from 1966 details a fairly stringent process for admitting new members:

"Members of the twenty-year old Clay Club are chosen from potters who apply by submitting work. If the screening committee approves an applicant's work he may be asked to join. Otherwise, he is held on a provisional basis for an interval of growth and improvement" (Todd).

The article goes on to say that the Seattle Clay Club was started in order to showcase ceramics and develop a contemporary collection while encouraging an appreciation for the medium.

Getting a Space

One thing that the Clay Club couldn't do was gather enough people in one space for a studio or classes. Kay Perine-Anson, president of the Clay Club in 1966, pushed for a facility that would allow the club to flourish as a working education center. Under the direction of chair Dr. Fred Jarvis, a board was formed to explore the idea of a regional pottery hub.

When the Seattle World's Fair ended in 1962, the City was endeavoring to fill the space left in its absence, and the Clay Club saw the opportunity to lease a 6,500-foot space in the former Food Circus. The Seattle Times reported in 1967 that the City had hopes that the addition of Pottery Northwest to the facility would be the beginning of a "craft complex" that would resemble Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco (The Seattle Times, February 5, 1967).

The Jean Griffith Era

Unfortunately, the $100 each the seven-person board decided to tax itself wasn't enough to cover much of anything. PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations), a nonprofit dedicated to funding arts programs, came forward with a $4,500 grant to help finish the space and more donations came in to establish a formal facility.

In 1966, Pottery Northwest was granted nonprofit status. The organization hired Ken Hendry, a ceramic artist, as "resident potter-director" in August 1966, but Hendry struggled to keep up his artistic output as well as run the organization. In 1973 Jean Griffith took over as director.

A self-described "doctor's wife," Griffith had taken a ceramics class at the University of Washington as a lark in the sixties (Kershner interview).  She had never worked in the medium, but from that class on Griffith became more and more "hooked on clay." She became a ceramics artist and got involved with the Seattle Clay Club. She eventually served as president, and was instrumental in the launch of Pottery Northwest.

Griffith's tenure as director of Pottery Northwest -- spanning a total of 27 years from 1973 to 2003 -- shaped the organization into the teaching facility, studio space, and hub for ceramics appreciation that it is today.

Sources: Kate Kershner interview with Jean Griffith, June 13, 2012, Seattle, audio in possession of Kate Kershner; Regina Hackett, "National Honors for Seattle's 'Muse of Clay,'" Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 26, 1996, p. C-1; Karen Mathieson, "Pottery Northwest: The Clay's The Thing," The Seattle Times, February 24, 1991 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com); Anne G. Todd, "Clay Club for Potters Finds Willing Local Aid," The Seattle Times, August 7, 1966, p. 76; "Partygoers Get Preview of Facility," Ibid., February 5, 1967, p. 96.

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