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Glen Lukens paved the way for groundbreaking ceramists like Peter Voulkos by challenging traditional approaches to glazes and forms.
Born in Missouri, Lukens was introduced to ceramics while attending the Oregon State Agricultural School. The school lacked a potter’s wheel, thus Lukens was given a basic introduction to coil built and molding techniques; he was essentially self-taught and would spend the rest of his life experimenting and learning. He moved to Los Angeles in 1924 and became a professor at the University of Southern California where he founded their ceramics program in 1933 and taught metalworking at the architecture school. A true Renaissance man, he also worked with glass and created jewelry.
Lukens was part of a group of early studio potters, including Beatrice Wood and the Natzlers, who sought to elevate ceramics as an art form via writing, innovation, and teaching. He spent years attempting to recreate an Egyptian blue glaze, finally doing so by mining his own copper-rich clay from the Death Valley area. Lukens developed a process of pulverizing agate, amethyst, turquoise, minerals and local stones with added glass powder to produce a low-fired palette that he referred to as “California colors.” He used rough clay surfaces and rudimentary forms at a time when smooth was the standard, finding inspiration in the natural desert elements he encountered when searching the Mojave Desert, Palm Springs, and Death Valley for materials.
Beyond being an educator and artist, Lukens was a contributor to Popular Ceramics for fifteen years. After retiring from USC he moved to Haiti to teach ceramics and establish a pottery industry on the island. He died in Los Angeles in 1967 and left behind an indelible imprint on the trajectory of modern American ceramics.