|Death Date: 1971
|Waylande Gregory was born in Baxter Spring, Kansas in 1905. His interest in pottery seemed to be innate - at the age of 4 he was creating animals from the mud on the riverbanks of his family's farm. School taught him that the process of kiln firing could permeate these figures, and Native Americans in a nearby village taught him that they could be art. Gregory's mother read Greek mythology to him, a theme that would greatly influence his work.
At the age of 20, Gregory was directing the decoration and design of the Missouri Theatre, The Hotel President, and the bas relief panels at Bradenburg Field at Pittsburgh State University. His talents garnered the attention of sculptor Lorado Taft, who became his mentor. Together they visited Europe many times to study Renaissance sculpture and visit local artists. In Paris Gregory met Yolande van Wager, who he would later marry.
In 1929, Gregory joined Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio, where he designed limited edition small ceramic figurines. In 1931 he became an artist-in-residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work began to receive attention, and he was named Director of the New Jersey WPA. It was here that he created his fountain, “Light Dispelling Darkness,” which features monumental ceramic sculptures
and can still be seen at Roosevelt Park in Menlo Park, New Jersey. When his sculpture, "Kansas Madonna", was published in Fortune Magazine, movie star Henry Fonda was intrigued by it and purchased one of Gregory's pieces. They became close friends, and his work began to attract the attention of collectors and additional celebrities. Albert Einstein in particular was pleased with Gregory's "Fountain of the Atom," which was the first time that the atomic age had been explored in a monumental work of art.
Gregory was the first modern ceramist to create large scale ceramic sculptures. Similar to the technique developed by the ancient Etruscans, he fired his monumental ceramic sculptures only once. To create these works of ceramic virtuosity, the artist developed a “honeycomb” technique in which an infrastructure of compartments was covered by a ceramic “skin.” Some of these
figurative sculptures became very heavy, some weighing well over one ton, and were fired in a huge
kiln constructed by Gregory at his home and studio in Warren, New Jersey.
By the 1940s Gregory began to create works in glass, as well as in a combination of ceramics and glass. In addition to becoming one of the earliest studio ceramics artists, he was also one of
the first studio glass artists. He created enameled glass vases as well as stained glass windows. Gregory experimented with some controversial glass and ceramic pieces, using a process he
successfully patented, much to the consternation of other American ceramists.
In the early 40s Gregory began to successfully produce groups of refined and highly stylized
decorative wares in limited edition numbers. These works were sold in exclusive stores. His
body of work in this category was immense, exploring a vast range of themes and styles yet
definitively creating a distinct and instantly recognizable aesthetic.
During the later years of his life Gregory briefly left the world of art for a project with NASA to
assist in developing the critical heat shields needed to reach the moon. He also composed music,
painted, began writing a newspaper column called Art & Living, appeared on the television show
Creative Arts, and taught art classes at his studio in the 60s. He continued to work until his death
in 1971. By the end of his life, the artist had created one of the largest bodies of ceramic
sculptural works in modern times, a body of work that represents one of the greatest legacies in
American ceramics history.