Ceramic art used to be hung up on the technique rather than the “art” of the piece. I think I've done a lot to negate that concept.

Rick Dillingham

Rick Dillingham

Born in Chicago, James Richard (Rick) Dillingham II was raised in central California and attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and then earned his BFA from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He went on to earn his MFA from Claremont Graduate School at Scripps College in 1976 and was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Craftsman’s Fellowships (1977 and 1983) and a grant from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation (1989).

Dillingham developed a profound interest in Native American cultures while studying in New Mexico and he relocated permanently to Santa Fe after finishing his formal studies, living and working there until his death in 1994. Dillingham developed a multi-faceted career which included dealing in and collecting Native American pottery, curating, writing, as well as creating his own ceramics. He developed a considerable knowledge of, and appreciation for, Native American pottery, earning him the respect of native artists, fellow dealers, and collectors alike. He assembled an astounding collection of Pueblo and Mojave pottery; his Mojave collection, in particular, is considered one of the largest and most complete in the country and is now housed at the Indian Arts Research Center of the School of American Research. Dillingham curated numerous exhibitions of Native American art and authored several books on Native American ceramics which have since become standard reading in the field, including Seven Families in Pueblo Pottery, Acoma and Laguna Pottery, and Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery.

Dillingham’s own ceramic creations were heavily influenced by the artists he worked among and the cultures he studied, however, as an Anglo-American he was able to take creative risks with his work that traditional Indian potters were not. Native potters followed certain traditions of refinement whereas Dillingham was able to merge conventional practices with his interests in Mimbres burial pots and experiences with ceramic restoration. This combination led him to experiment with vessels as compositions of shards: first, he hand-built, burnished, and fired a pot after which he carefully shattered it, decorated the pieces, and finally reassembled it. The resulting vessels, as described by Garth Clark, “stand as a rebuke to the urge for perfection and a commentary on our fragile impermanence. However, in common with the pierced burial pots of the Mimbres, they also have an optimism, seeing loss as an essential part of a life-giving cycle of birth, death, and resurrection.” In the early 1970s, Dillingham also began crafting ceramic gas cans patterned after Pueblo ceramic water jars and meant to be a commentary on our culture’s dependence on gasoline.

Dillingham’s life was cut tragically short at the age of 41 due to complications from AIDS. His considerable legacy lives on in his books and in permanent collections across the globe, including the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

Auction Results Rick Dillingham