Museum of Contemporary Craft

Soft Clay, Bright Colors, Hard Words


Meghan Chalmers-McDonald '14 reflects on the relevance of Gronborg's explicitly political and anti-commercial ceramic works.

The first thing to notice about Erik Gronborg’s work is the color. It shines like a beacon on the upper floor of Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC). Bright reds and greens, brilliant blues, and whites all set with deep black lines. As you get closer, you notice that the softness of the forms evokes a lucid dream still pliable in the mind. Finally, the images on the surfaces of those brightly colored pots come into focus with clean edged stamps and decals contrasting with soft lines, and black lines and textures overlaying colors almost like a stain. The imagery of soft and hard pervades throughout the work. Soft forms out of hard clay, soft women next to hard machines, hard money, hard words.


Erik Gronborg, “Container with Lid,” 1982. Stoneware with low fire glazes and photo decals. Collection of Ron Werner and Scott McCoy. Photo by Matthew Miller ’11.

Gronborg purposefully uses his bright palette to catch the viewer’s eyes. His primary colors and gilt are strong enough to compete amidst the brightly colored plastic commercial market. I imagine that Gronborg wanted his work to be noticed amongst the kipple that has flooded the market place, which has drowned out the more subtle hues of traditional wares. To the same end, the soft lush roundness offers a stark contrast to the clean, machined qualities of plastic and mass-produced slip-cast wares.

As a craft person, I respond to Gronborg’s evident love of wet clay. Bulbous roundness pervades his making. Though a quote on the wall from Gronborg extols his love of the freshly altered clay, he never really had to say a word. The clay in Gronborg’s work squishes, stretches, and gushes in a way that any ceramicist knows instinctively. What potter hasn’t bemoaned her inability to keep a piece in a perpetual state of freshness, to somehow preserve the surface and seduction of her freshly formed clay? Gronborg has found ways to capture some of that feel in his loosely handled work.

I find myself very interested in how Gronborg uses graphic design to address political messages through the medium of clay. By using newspaper plates and corporate logos as stamps, along with photographic image transfers, Gronborg leverages the language of design to communicate his ideas and politics. The piece Super Super Super is a strong example of this cross between graphic design messaging and ceramic expression.

Erik Gronborg, “Super Super Super Super”, c. 1970, Ceramic, 2.75 c 17.25 inches diameter, Collection of Museum of Contemporary Craft, Gift of Gary Smith. Photo by: Dan Kvitka

Through clay, Gronborg preserves a moment of American history in one of the most durable records that human beings have made. What we know of many ancient civilizations comes from their potsherds. Politics, values, and the actions of day-to-day lives of ancient people were recorded in clay through the make and decoration of ceramic vessels. Gronborg taps into this history of history and simultaneously appeals to the active politics of his day. Many of the ideas presented are as relevant today as they were in the 1960’s, such as his piece How much America can the world take? Perhaps we are now seeing the answer to this question.

Looking at Gronborg’s work, I see politics stamped into everyday items, and it gives me inspiration. It is my intention as an artist to find a way to address issues that are important to me: PTSD, bisexuality, and the role of culture in our daily lives. I want to find a way to take the special moments that art represents, the sacred separate places created in the exchange of ideas between maker and audience, and place them in the everyday. By crafting unashamedly political functional works, Gronborg lifts the ideas out of the newspapers, off the wall, and places them directly into people’s hands and homes.


Erik Gronborg, “Large Teapot,” 1978. Stoneware with low fire glazes and photo decals. Collection of Ron Werner and Scott McCoy. Photo by Matthew Miller ’11.


Erik Gronborg ,“Pedestal Torso (Set of 4)” 1967. White Stoneware with black glaze stain, unstained wood pedestal. Collection of Greg Weller and Dan Berman. Photo by Matthew Miller ’11.

by Meghan Chalmers-McDonald, MFA AC+D '14
Meghan Chalmers-McDonald '14 has been working in clay for 11 years and is a current MFA candidate at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft in the joint Applied Craft and Design program. You can see her ceramic work on her website,

— Posted on 11/30 at 11:11 AM

Share this story: