|Birth Date: November 7, 1929
|Death Date: March 19, 2014
|Much has been said about Don Reitz – his candid and open manner, his honesty, his enthusiasm for working with clay is contagious…he is an effective educator because he is excited about his medium.
Reitz has been many things in his life, a diver, truck driver, fisherman, firefighter, carpenter, etc. When he was 30, he spent time with Charlie, a 70-year-old Algonquin Indian in Canada. Besides teaching Reitz to run trap lines, Charlie taught him about life and that art was an important part. So Reitz decided to go to New York and attend art school. “I couldn’t see myself working in a clay environment in New York – just too claustrophobic. A friend of mine, who realized my two loves were people and art, suggested I become an art teacher, and that I check out Kutztown State Teacher’s College in Pennsylvania. At Kutztown they asked me why I wanted to be an artist. No one had ever asked me that before; I had never asked myself that. I couldn’t think of a good answer. I just said, it smelled right when I walked in here. They accepted me into the program”.
In his junior year he found his love of clay, once he started, it just came naturally to him. “I love clay. I set up this kerosene-fired kiln in the backwoods. I didn’t know much about it—just fired it up, got the pots hot, stuck a metal rod in to see if they were sticky, and , if so, got them the hell out of there”.
He started with the hand built method but soon changed to the wheel. After attending Alfred University, with the help of Val Cushing and Bob Turner, Reitz was accepted into the graduate program. Reitz himself will tell you that this was like heaven – here the studios were open 24 hours a day, kilns were always available and he had access to endless amounts of material.
In the 60s and early 70s the ceramic world was going through a period of tremendous change and experimentation. Ceramic artists were questioning the old rule that clay had to be a craft, a functional piece of work. Why couldn’t it be art and non-functional? This period became a watershed for clay. During this time Reitz explored salt glazing; the renaissance of an ancient technique.
Another revolution for the ceramic artists occurred during the 80s and 90s. No longer did they work primarily in the University setting, but created their own studios and sold their work in galleries. In other words they moved to a commercial setting.
At the end of his life, Reitz lived in Arizona, back in a red rock canyon, surrounded by ancient Indian ruins that seemed to be an endless source of energy.
“My art has always come out of a need. Not everyone may like what I do, but I can only make what I feel in my heart. You have to have courage to put out what you know to be truth. I always wanted to be an artist, but thought that was probably something I would not be able to do because of my background and work-ethic I grew up in. Art wasn’t considered a job – you weren’t really working, just playing around. But it was something that came naturally to me. Before zeroing in on art as a career, I did many things, including working as a truck driver, lumberjack, meat cutter and diver - all physical jobs. Experiences such as these, particularly the things I have heard and seen, become part of me and are the references for much of my art”.