Marinobel Smith and the Pan-American Ceramic National

Jar by Brazilian ceramist Enclides Fonseca in the hands of Dorothy Liebes and Thomas J. Watson, Sr. Photograph taken at the Contemporary Ceramics of the Western Hemisphere exhibition on view at Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, October 19 through November 16, 1941. Ceramic National Archives, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York.
Entry into the Contemporary Ceramics of the Western Hemisphere exhibition at Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts. 1941. Exhibition design by Bill Atkinson. Photograph by William H. Allen.
Ceramic National Archive, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York.
Plate by Carmen Saco, 1929. 1.75 inch height x 18.5 inch diameter. Gift of IBM Corporation. 10th Ceramic National: Contemporary Ceramics of the Western Hemisphere, 1941. Everson Museum of Art, 1963.131.

Studio Potter, October 2022

Article: “Marinobel Smith and the Pan-American Ceramic National”

“October 17th, 1941: the Tenth Ceramic National and Contemporary Ceramics of the Western Hemisphere exhibitions opened for preview at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Art (now the Everson Museum of Art). The building was crowded with 541 objects surrounded by leaders of museums, corporations, and the mid-century craft field. Restrained white-wall galleries hosted settings for most ceramics, while others were presented in novel exhibition environments. On the main floor, “The Living Kitchen” from the New York World’s Fair was outfitted with industrial ceramics. Upstairs, utilitarian and sculptural works furnished an installation titled “Traditional Versus Modern,” where an old-fashioned dining room contrasted a contemporary living room.

This was a far cry from the museum’s first Ceramic National, where American ceramics were exhibited on funerary casket crates – a clever adaption that was made due to the meager budget of the first event. Another difference: at this exhibition, the term “American ceramics,” described the international quality of the event. In assembly were contemporary ceramics from the United States, Canada, Iceland, and fifteen countries of Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

This was the largest exhibition of the medium at the time, the first Pan-American survey of contemporary ceramics, and it remains one of few US exhibitions that tried to characterize the varied approaches of Latin American ceramists. With seventy pieces of modern ceramics from the region, organizers assembled impressive examples made by leading artists; to name only a few, these included Marina Nuñez del Prado, the internationally acclaimed modernist sculptor from Bolivia; Diana Chiari de Gruber, who founded the National Pottery School in La Arena, Panama; the Paraguayan ceramist Campos Cervera who signed his work under the pseudonym Julián de la Herrería, and his wife, the Spanish-born Paraguayan artist and cultural influencer Josefina Plá. How did this all come together?”