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Form & Surface

Selections from the Glenn C. Nelson Collection


Glenn C. Nelson came to Duluth in 1956 to organize a ceramics program for UMD Art Department at the invitation of his University of Iowa classmate, UMD professor of art Orazio Fumagalli.  Nelson spent the next 20 years teaching and mentoring students, many of whom went on to become teachers and professional potters with their own spheres of influence.  As one of the first artists in post WWII America to formally document ceramic studio practice, Nelson’s experience was in great demand.  Between 1957 and 1983 he authored five editions of the influential book Ceramics: A potters Handbook, a standard text for ceramics at hundred of educational institutions in the United State and Europe.
Unique to Nelsons’ books at the time was their use of hundreds of images to illustrate technique with both historical and modern ceramic forms.  His emphasis on international design aesthetics created a larger aesthetic context in which students, curators and the public could see clay, thereby repositioning the aesthetics for ceramics on equal terms with visual arts.


“Whether conceived of either as a mass or a silhouette form must the dominant element.  This is our focus of attention.  To water down its impact by frivolous treatment of the lip, elaborate handles or by a flashy decoration gives the viewer a sensation of uncertainty, leading to indifference… To give maximum impact, the contour of the form must not be like a smudged charcoal drawing but deceivably straight or curved, subtly must never be confused with ambiguity nor invention or with what is merely quaint or different.”


Glenn C. Nelson, Ceramics: A Potter’s Handbook. second edition, 1966
Nelson’s own work ranged from large wheel-thrown vessels, to hand-formed and sculptural ceramics.  He gave great consideration to the integration of surface design and three –dimensional form, and sought similar qualities in the ceramic works he collected.


Sponsored by University of Minnesota International Studies grants, Nelson traveled widely to research the design and techniques of potters world-wide in their studios and to collect examples of their work.  The works he collected, in combination with his own and the work of colleagues and students, form the care of the Tweed Museum of Art ceramics collection.  Dated between 1950 and 1970, the Nelson Collection reflects traditional wheel-thrown forms, methods of surface decorations, as well as innovative sculpture forms by Nelson’s contemporaries in the U.S., Korea, Japan, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, and England.
In 1992, the Tweed Museum of Art organized a tribute exhibition honoring Glenn C. Nelson.  At his insistence, it included the work of many colleagues and former students to accompany the works he had collected over the years.


At the exhibitions close, Nelson donated over 100 works to the Tweed.  A few years later, he established a purchase fund for ceramics.


As innovator and catalyst for American ceramic arts from 1950-80, Glenn C. Nelson has left a legacy that live through the teaching, writing and collecting of his protégés and their followers.  Nelson’s vision and his desire to share knowledge and his collection, helped make the Tweed Museum of Art, today, a destination for ceramic students, artists and enthusiasts of all kinds.



Tweed Museum of Art


Museum Location

Tweed Museum of Art

University of Minnesota Duluth Campus

1201 Ordean Court

Duluth, MN 55812-2496

Info: 218-726-8222 or 218-726-6552

store: 218-726-6139



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Last modified on 05/15/18 12:06 PM
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