Walter B. Stephen Pottery: Cameo to Crystalline

  • May 10, 2021 12:53

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Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen, Square Dancers teapot, 1953, glazed stoneware. Asheville Art Museum.
Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen, Vase, 1941, crystalline glazed stoneware. Asheville Art Museum.
Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen, Covered Wagon teapot, creamer and sugar bowl, 1943, glazed stoneware. Asheville Art Museum.
Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen, Vase, 1934, glazed stoneware. Asheville Art Museum, extended loan from the collection of Tom & Dorothy Case.
Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen, Indian Campfire mug, 1950, glazed stoneware. Asheville Art Museum.
Pisgah Forest Pottery, Walter B. Stephen, Vase, 1931, glazed stoneware. Asheville Art Museum.

Artist Walter B. Stephen (Clinton, IA 1875–1961 Asheville, NC) contributed to Western North Carolina’s identity as a flourishing site for pottery production and craftsmanship in the early 20th century. Walter B. Stephen Pottery: Cameo to Crystalline features art pottery and functional vessels from each stage of Stephen’s career, from his origins discovering the medium alongside his mother Nellie C. Randall Stephen in Shelby County, TN from 1901 through 1910 to his multi-decade production just outside of Asheville. This exhibition will be on view at the Asheville Art Museum, July 28, 2021 through January 17, 2022.

In 1926, Stephen founded his third and last pottery studio, Pisgah Forest, in Arden, NC, which he operated until his death in 1961. It was at this studio that the artist perfected the “cameo” decoration technique for which he became best known. His hand-painted images, achieved with layers of white translucent clay, often feature American folk imagery, from covered wagons and livestock to cabins and spinning wheels. A selection of works from the Museum’s Collection showcase his innovation in form and in decorative surface details, including experimentation with crystalline glazing.

“Walter B. Stephen’s body of pottery work is a staple in the ceramic tradition local to Western North Carolina," said Alexis Meldrum, curatorial assistant. "The artist’s experimentations with glazing methods throughout his career are particularly mesmerizing. Stephen is credited as the first artist in the South to employ the crystalline glaze technique, where the right heat in the kiln and mineral composition of the glaze allows large crystal growth to become visible on the pottery’s surface. The resulting patterns are foliate and visually captivating.” 

This exhibition is organized by the Asheville Art Museum and curated by Alexis Meldrum, curatorial assistant. Learn more at

Tags: ceramics

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