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Ceramics: From Mass Production to Individuality
Lijana Natalevičienė
A foundation for renewal
At the time, ceramic design was the most developed branch of applied arts. The inter-war Kaunas School of Art featured a Ceramics Studio (est. 1931), and the artistic quality of the field was supported by the works of Liudvikas Strolis and his students. Generally, however, post-war Lithuanian ceramic work was more reminiscent of craftwork.
Although they had a strong mastery of ceramic work technique, post-war artists geared their style more to the folksy aesthetics promoted by the inter-war publication Sodžiaus menas (Village Art). Ceramic artists working in the "Dailė" The Vilnius Dailė FactoryThe Vilnius Dailė Factory, established in 1946, opened a Ceramics Unit in 1966 after a new workshop was set up in Vilnius (at 36 Kauno Street) thanks to the efforts of ceramic artist Algirdas Laucius (1928-1995), then the director of the LSSR Art Fund. After the restoration of independence and the shuttering of the Dailė Factory, the ceramics unit was kept open – albeit in a smaller form and with a different focus – and remains in operation today in the same facility under the name Keramikos meno centras Ltd. (Ceramic Arts Centre). factory network established after the war (with the first ceramics unit set up at the Vilnius Dailė Factory in 1966) were not known for any great diversity in the shape of their work, concentrating mostly on satisfying the need for decorative and domestic ceramic ware.
The key reasons behind the revival in ceramic art were the more liberal atmosphere in daily life, the growing prestige enjoyed by the applied arts in general, and the evolving nature of exploration in ceramic arts globally. During the "thaw" period, Lithuanians began to perceive ceramics as a more valued field of artistic activity, one that promised a more rich and associative quality with the potential to have considerable emotional impact on one's environment.
The ceramic arts community was encouraged by changes taking place in pottery in Western Europe. In many countries, the revival in ceramics began after the Second World War. The first to push the established limits of decorative art were modernist painters experimenting with pottery, including Pablo Picasso, Fernard Léger, Jean Lurçat, and Joan Miró. One of the leading centers of innovation in the ceramic arts in the 1950s was the Ceramics Department of the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, established in 1954, under the direction of the Greek-born artist Peter Voulkos (1924-2002). The department promoted the respectful approach to ceramic work embraced by artists in the Far East. Influenced by abstract expressionism, the work of Voulkos and his colleagues surpassed the limitations of craftwork and took on the features of abstract sculpture. Their work consisted of developing studio pottery Studio potteryStudio pottery refers to individual artistic ceramic works (in contrast to industrial ceramics), first manifested as an artistic movement in Great Britain in the early 20th century that placed value on individual creative exploration. In studio pottery, ceramic artists create unique or limited-run pieces individually or working in small groups. The movement, inspired by the ideas of the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century, proliferated thanks to the work of such English ceramic artists as Bernard Leach (1887-1979), William Staite Murray (1881-1962), Dora Billington (1890-1968), Lucie Rie (1902-1995), Hans Coper (1920-1981) and others. as technology progressed around them. Ceramic work around the world was increasingly being freely modeled and molded, without the use of a pottery wheel (thus also attracting artists from other fields who were not lacking in new ideas).
The Lithuanian approach to ceramics as an artisan craft changed as contact increased with ceramic art designed abroad, as Lithuanian artists participated in international exhibitions and travelled as tourists to foreign countries. The world ceramics exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland in 1958 and the 1959 International Ceramics Exhibition in Ostend, Belgium were not only attended by such established Lithuanian ceramic artists as Liudvikas Strolis (1905-1996), Jonas Mikėnas (1899-1988, and Teodora Miknevičienė (1909–1982), but also by artists who had completed their training in the post-war years, including Mykolas Vrubliauskas (1919–1993), Birutė Zygmantaitė (1914–2003), Aldona Ličkutė (1928–2007), Julija Kačinskaitė (b. 1926), Elena Tulevičiūtė (b. 1924), and Birutė Mikučionytė. In 1958, ceramics from the Dailė Factory in Kaunas were shown at the World Expo in Brussels (winning a gold medal) and the Soviet Exhibition of Science, Technology, and Culture in New York. That same year, a series of ceramic works produced at the Kaunas Factory's Ceramics Unit were shown at an international ceramics exhibition in Japan.
Works by young artists comprised the core of the ceramics contribution to the 1960 exhibition of Lithuanian folk and applied art in Warsaw. At a republic-wide exhibition in Vilnius that same year, held to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, a group of young and promising artists presented their work, symbolically showcasing the changes taking place in the Lithuanian applied arts. Participating in this exhibition were, among others: Juozas Adomonis (b. 1932), Genovaitė Jacėnaitė (b. 1933), Egidijus Talmantas (b. 1934), Danutė Eidukaitė (1929–1995), Aldona Ličkutė, Julija Kačinskaitė-Vyšniauskienė, and Elena Tulevičiūtė-Venckevičienė.
Because they had more opportunities to travel as tourists to the so-called socialist bloc countries, Lithuanians had greater access to the works of that region, and also became familiar with trends in these countries through subscriptions to their local press and journals. Lithuanians were influenced during this period by Czech ceramic works, known for their simple shapes and rough surfaces. The 3rd International Ceramics Exhibition, held in Prague in 1962, was impressive in its ambitious scope: presenting over 5,000 pieces, including 2,500 unique ceramic works, from some 30 countries. The strong interest at that time in prehistoric pottery was reflected in a special exhibition devoted to rare examples of archaeological ceramics. Lithuanian ceramic artists who attended the Exhibition remarked:
It should be noted that archaic ceramic traditions were shown in the presentations of almost every country. Juozas Adomonis, Vaclovas Miknevičius, „Tarptautinė keramikos paroda Prahoje“, Dailė, 1964, kn. 4, p. 46.
Soviet artists, including representatives from Lithuania, were sent to Prague to "acquaint themselves with prevailing international artistic standards in ceramics." During their stay, they visited the Czechoslovak Artists' Union, artists' studios and workshops, the Prague Institute for Applied and Industrial Art, as well as various ceramics schools and factories. The journey to Prague broadened their horizons and encouraged them to embrace a new view of ceramic artistry.
Juozas Adomonis, who had just begun his creative journey at that time, recalled the experience in his memoirs: "My eyes were opened in 1962 when I visited the huge ceramics exhibition in Prague organized by the International Academy of Ceramics." Juozas Adomonis, „Ugnies meno apžavėtas“, in: Juozas Adomonis, sudarytojai Juozas Adomonis, Danutė Zovienė, įvadinio teksto autorė Aleksandra Aleksandravičiūtė, Vilnius: LDS leidykla, 2010, p. 105.
Exhibitions held in the "bourgeois" (or "capitalist") European countries were attended only by Soviet ceramic artist groups who had passed a strict selection procedure. Upon their return home, they shared their impressions with others. After visiting Ostend, Jonas Mikėnas talked openly of his admiration for the massive event and shared his insightful commentary about the trends in pottery evolving in Europe:
The international exhibition in Ostend demonstrated a restrained approach to artistic work, a deep appreciation of the material as well as simple and noble shapes. On the other hand, there were also quite glaring examples of uncontrolled fantasy created in the name of originality and innovation, complex and ugly forms, and a disregard for the properties of the material. These two trends were fairly evident in the ceramic works of many countries, and the International Academy of Ceramics accepted works of both types equally.
The former trend was most evident in the ceramic collection presented by the Finns, and the latter—in the Belgian works, most of which, made in the name of expression, originality and innovation at all costs, had a barely discernible functional purpose, unless only to demonstrate that techniques had been borrowed from sculpture, thus surpassing the limitations dictated by ceramic material. Jonas Mikėnas, „Tarptautinės keramikos parodos Belgijoje proga“, Dailė, 1963, Nr. 3, p. nenumeruoti.
Mikėnas perceived the start of a global shift in ceramics away from ornamental works toward more complex, fluid, and conceptual sculptural compositions. His conservative evaluation of processes taking place in the ceramics world and his surprise at how the West tolerated various artistic trends speaks not only to Mikėnas' own personal views, but also to the Soviet environment's imprint on the understanding of the "new style" of ceramics.
Modernity equated with moderation
An essential precondition for the process of modernization was the receptiveness of young artists to new ideas, combined with their exploration of new paths and their interest in the innovations taking place in the ceramics field around the world. The role played by the younger generation in the renewal of Lithuanian ceramic work should not, however, be overestimated. Liudvikas Strolis and the neotraditionalist Neotraditionalism and traditionalismNeotraditionalism and traditionalism is an aesthetic (and sometimes ideological) worldview which espouses an attachment to the exploration of traditions and values from the past, in contrast to radicalism, liberalism and, sometimes, modernism. Neotraditionalism has arisen during various historical periods in the face of a perceived need to emphasize fundamental, traditional values passed from one generation to another. It featured prominently in the 20th century in the works of many Lithuanian artists, and particularly during the inter-war period. aesthetic he promoted – arising from the early 20th century constructivism of French ceramic forms, the tectonic character of their contours, and the logical correlation between form and ornamentation – continued to dominate Lithuanian pottery for a very long time. Moreover, these traits persisted in Lithuanian ceramics because they coincided with the national worldview and folk pottery traditions.
Strolis was convinced that ceramic work must not only be artistic, but also functionally appropriate, with significant attention paid to technique. His creative work was influenced by a vision of modern ceramics aspiring to rise to a "higher" plane of art, as well as the legacy of prehistoric and pre-renaissance pottery. Strolis perceived a commonality of principle shared by the archaic European and the ethnographic Lithuanian ceramic arts. And while he valued the traditions of folk art, he encouraged a creative view of the Lithuanian national heritage, as evidenced by his comments during an interview with the Lithuanian cultural journal Literatūra ir Menas in 1966:
We must approach our study of our national cultural legacy in a creative way—we can't always just keep dragging it out. We will never find a full answer or solution in our folk art to the questions that concern us. [...] We have to thoroughly study our national heritage and derive something from it for ourselves: perhaps a mood, a nuance of color, perhaps the laws of logic, a sense of proportion—or perhaps something else entirely that is meaningful from our artistic past. „Į redakcijos klausimus atsako dailininkas keramikas Liudvikas Strolis“, Literatūra ir menas, 1966 12 10.
We will not find the illustrative or declarative ethnographic traits commonly seen in post-war art in the vases and plates made by Strolis in the 1940s and 1950s. Even his 1957 vase Gyvulininkystė (Animal Husbandry) , which was apparently meant to be viewed as a narrative piece, is laconic in form and adheres to the context of the artist's creative work. His ornamental pottery of the 1960s (Vaza su žalčiukais [Vase With Small Snakes], 1960; and two vases from 1965) is characterized by simplified forms and is minimally adorned with molded or etched ornamentation, radiating with a harmonious blend of tradition and modernism. Clearly, Strolis had no need to reform himself—his creative style coincided with the international trends of the period. The value of works by Strolis, a proponent of moderation in ceramic art, derived from technological precision and an emphasis on the traits of the artistic material, principles that formed the foundation of the so-called Strolis School of ceramic artistry.
The most prominent representatives of this School (apart from Strolis himself) all belonged to the core group of Lithuanian ceramic artists of that time: Jonas Mikėnas, M. Vrubliauskas, Povilas Krivaitis T. Miknevičienė, Marija Bankauskaitė (1933–1992), D. Eidukaitė, and Birutė Zygmantaitė—in other words, artists whose works were distinguished by laconic form and ornamental and technical precision. Their vases, ornamental dishware, and serving sets were based on the simplest of geometric shapes (semi-circles, prisms and rectangles), that were then transformed by the artists into expressive works of art. With the exception of a few pieces of their work, other Lithuanian ceramic art reformers also embraced the Strolis School, including Liucija Šulgaitė (1934–2013), Juozas Adomonis, and others who shunned elaborate shapes and who acknowledged Strolis' influence on their work.
Unlike the functionalists of the inter-war period, who deemphasized the artistic source material, ceramic artists of the 1960s sought to highlight the specific characteristics of clay. Their attempt to bring out clay's course surface and its associations with prehistoric pottery became an aesthetic norm of that period. Ceramic artists began to prefer rough, chamotte clay Chamotte (grog) clayChamotte (grog) clay: 1. A rigid material comprised of baked and crushed clay granules used as a thinning material mixed into clay (from 30% to 90%) to achieve a particular consistency or coarse fragment texture. Chamotte can be of different particle sizes, fired at low (600-900°C) or high (1300°C) temperatures. 2. A type of clay obtained from mixing baked clay granules into a larger mass of clay. Among Lithuanian ceramic artists, chamotte was most popular in the 1960s because of its coarse texture and ornamental qualities., shying away from glazing the surface of their work with glossy reduction glazes Reduction glazesReduction glazes are glazes characterised by a metallic sheen or blended rainbow shades.  Pieces are fired in hermetic kilns in a reduction atmosphere, where the amount of available oxygen is reduced, thus giving the glazed surface its metallic appearance. Reduction glaze comes both in a glossy and matte type and was popular in ancient China and the Middle East. This technique was first mastered in Lithuania in the 1930s due to the efforts of Kaunas Art School instructor Pranas Brazdžius, and became more popular following the Second World War. Interest in reduction firing renewed in the early 21st century following the organisation of several symposiums on this topic in Kaunas and Vilnius. that obscured the surfaces of their pieces, instead embracing matte Matte glazeMatte glaze refers to a dull, opaque, flat finish made from basic glaze materials, adding in kaolin or zinc, titanium, magnesium or other oxides and fired at high temperatures.  or salt glazed Salt glazeSalt glaze refers to a glossy, translucent finish obtained during the final stages of the firing process by throwing rock salt (sodium chloride) into the kiln. As it burns, the salt seeps into the surface of the ceramic work. This type of glazing is most often used for stoneware and was invented in the late 14th century in Germany. surfaces that gave their work a rough beauty and simplicity with noble matte or velvety shades. On rare occasions, local artists (Danutė Eidukaitė, Aldona Ličkutė-Jusionienė) took inspiration from Western designs and sought to create colorful pieces that were not often seen in Lithuanian ceramic work. Sculptural pottery never lost the popularity it enjoyed since the inter-war period, but works became more stylized and simplified in form.
If works were adorned with any relief, carved or painted ornamentation, this usually consisted of a simplified, primitive, two-dimensional design. In the 1960s, even artists who usually leaned toward more complex and plastic styles created works of art embodying modesty and harmony of design, including Vaclovas Miknevičius (1910–1989) and Valdemaras Manomaitis (1912–2000). During this period, ceramic artists understood that an ornamental design treatment alone does not detract from the character of a work of applied art.
When my teaching workload was light, I was asked to lecture on the fundamentals of architecture (!). At first, I had to prepare, but then I gave lectures not only to ceramic students, but also to clothing designers and art educators. When I delved more deeply [into the subject], I noticed that the artistic tools of architectural composition were quite similar to those of the applied arts. Juozas Adomonis, „Ugnies meno apžavėtas“, in: Juozas Adomonis, sudarytojai Juozas Adomonis, Danutė Zovienė, įvadinio teksto autorė Aleksandra Aleksandravičiūtė, Vilnius: LDS leidykla, 2010, p. 105.
Read more: Juozas Adomonis.
A different view was also taking shape
At the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s, ceramics took on more varied and sophisticated styles. Plasticity in form first emerged in ornamental works: plates, slab plates and three-dimensional pieces. Aldona Ličkutė-Jusionienė was one of the most active ceramic artistry reformers. Her ornamental plates (the Pilių motyvai [Castle Motifs] series of 1965), slab plates (the Šeima [Family] diptych, 1967) and free-form ceramics (Vestuvės [The Wedding], 1967) were shaped freely, using primitive designs, rich and expressive forms and coarse surfaces. Ličkutė-Jusionienė's outdoor sculptures and interior compositions (Sparnai [Wings], 1970) were also innovative. Her later work exhibited an increasing amount of sculptural qualities and richness, as was the case throughout the ceramic art world in Lithuania.
Liucija Šulgaitė and Marija Bankauskaitė chose a different method to express the suggested associations in their work. Both artists searched for meaningful forms in traditional pottery and nature. Compositions created by Šulgaitė in the early 1970s (Lašai [Drops] and Kriauklės [Shells], both made in 1971) based the fundamentals of the pottery structure on the contours of natural phenomena (chestnut basts, stone, shells), in keeping with her minimalist traditions. Bankauskaitė's vases and pottery sets brought to mind natural and archetypal historical objects (as in her vase diptych Kardas [Sword], 1970). The expressive contours of the large vases created by these two artists resembled ornamental sculptures, replete with thought and meaning. Their artistic explorations coincided with similar sculptural pursuits being undertaken by contemporary modernists such as Vladas Vildžiūnas, Kazimieras Valaitis, Steponas Šarapovas, Šarūnas Šimulynas and Gediminas Karalius.
Both Šulgaitė and Bankauskaitė had successful showings of their work in international ceramics symposiums in Bechyn, Czechoslovakia and Faenza, Italy. The fact that Bankauskaitė was awarded a gold medal in Faenza in 1970 for her Kardas vases, followed by Šulgaitė's receiving a gold medal the next year for her Lašai composition, attests to the maturity of Lithuanian ceramic art and the interest shown for Lithuanian artistic exploration by foreign colleagues.
Ceramics began to make inroads in architecture. Art critics of the time noted that, "the trend of creating ornamental works that began several years ago is now universally accepted." Taikomoji-dekoratyvinė dailė: Albumas, sudarytojas Juozas Adomonis, įžangos autorius Stasys Pinkus, Vilnius: Vaga, 1969.Taikomoji-dekoratyvinė dailė: Albumas, sudarytojas Juozas Adomonis, įžangos autorius Stasys Pinkus, Vilnius: Vaga, 1969.  Working closely with architects, artists crafted series of panels, vases, and outdoor ceramic works. The opening of the Vilnius Art Exhibition Hall in 1967 offered a perfect opportunity to display outdoor ceramic works in the museum's inner courtyard.
Increasingly, ceramic works were used to decorate new interior spaces. Some of the more successful early attempts included the display of a composition, created by Gražina Degutytė-Švažienė in 1965, in the "Vilnius" Restaurant, a decorative wall panel by Elvyra Petraitienė and Skirmantas Petraitis-Petrauskas installed in the Vilnius Fuel Equipment Factory in 1969, Aldona Ličkutės-Jusionienė's panel Pušelė (Little Pine Tree) at the Valkininkai Children's Sanatorium in 1970, and a panel by Danutė Kondrotaitė entitled Širdies diagnostika (Heart Diagnostics, 1970) at the Kaunas Institute of Medicine.
Lithuanian ceramic art modernized as it distanced itself from the mundane to seek out metaphorical content and forms with associative value. The laconic forms of functionalism and folk art traditions continued to yield to a search for meaning and a more sophisticated and sculptural expressivity.
Read more: Liucija Šulgaitė.


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Sources and links

„Į redakcijos klausimus atsako dailininkas keramikas Liudvikas Strolis“
Literatūra ir menas, 1966 12 10
Taikomoji-dekoratyvinė dailė
Albumas, sudarytojas Juozas Adomonis, įžangos autorius Stasys Pinkus, Vilnius: Vaga, 1969
Juozas Adomonis
„Ugnies meno apžavėtas“
Juozas Adomonis, sudarytojai Juozas Adomonis, Danutė Zovienė, įvadinio teksto autorė Aleksandra Aleksandravičiūtė, Vilnius: LDS leidykla, 2010
Juozas Adomonis, Vaclovas Miknevičius
„Tarptautinė keramikos paroda Prahoje“
Dailė, 1964, kn. 4
Jonas Mikėnas
„Tarptautinės keramikos parodos Belgijoje proga“
Dailė, 1963, Nr. 3
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