The Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art has organized a touring retrospective exhibition of Don Reitz, one of the most experimental and ingenious ceramic artists of the last century. “Spontaneous Response: The Innovative Ceramics of Don Reitz” opens Aug. 29 and runs through Nov. 9 with a reception Thursday, Aug. 29, from 4-6 p.m.
“Don Reitz was a visionary who revolutionized the forms, structures and techniques of clay,” says organizer Chris Rupp, curator and collections manager for the museum and a ceramic artist. “He came from what I would call the greatest generation of about a dozen ceramic artists who are all legendary, groundbreaking and transformative. These potters challenged the norm and revolutionized the way we think about ceramic art today.”
The exhibition features 78 rarely seen, avant-garde works on loan from the Reitz estate and other major collectors. Rupp produced a fully illustrated, color catalog with essays by Peter Held, Glenn Adamson and Brent Reitz, Don’s son. Rupp met Brent and his wife, Jennifer, in 2018 at their Santa Barbara home. “What distinguishes this exhibition of Don’s work is the personal involvement of his family in this project,” Rupp says. “Brent’s openness to sharing personal narratives and photographs of ‘Dad’ have been invaluable to the show’s development.”
Don Reitz, born a week after Black Tuesday at the start of the 1929 Great Depression, inspired a reemergence of salt glaze pottery in the U.S., which involves pouring salt into a pottery kiln during the firing stage. After graduating from high school, he served as a U.S. Navy diver for five years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Kutztown State Teachers College, where he discovered his passion for working on the potter’s wheel in his final semester. He earned an MFA from Alfred University’s New York State College of Ceramics and taught ceramic art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1962-1988. Reitz, who suffered a heart attack in 2007, continued producing works with the help of studio assistants for seven more years before he died at the age of 84 in Clarkdale, Arizona, where he had a private studio.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed Sundays and college holidays. For more information, please visit westmont.edu/museum or contact the museum at (805) 565-6162.