This ceramic vessel was made by Claude Conover, a well-known Cleveland, Ohio ceramicist. Born in 1907, Conover worked for much of his career as a commercial designer and made his pottery for many years at night. He eventually made his ceramics his livelihood. His work has been collected nationwide and beyond and at the time of his death, at least twenty museums held Conover works in their collections. Conover won the Cleveland Arts Prize in visual arts in 1983. He passed away in 1994.
A hallmark of his robust, ceramic vessels is the embellishment he incised into the earthy, monochromatic surfaces, the meanders and patterns suggesting symbols or script of forgotten meaning. For those of us who find the pottery forms of many artisans to be a link with our ancient past, Conover’s work approaches the spiritual. He named each work – this one is called Olma. It is 19” high and 14” in diameter.
My late wife, Nancy McIntyre came into possession of Olma long before I met her. She started collecting art in the late ‘60’s and my recollection was that she bought Olma through Shaw’s Department store in Tallahassee. Shaw’s was known for its eclectic mix of quality modernist furniture, imported accessories and crafts, antiques and ‘artist made’ art. I made a promise to myself never to sell a certain short list of art pieces I came to love in her St. Petersburg apartment when I met her in 1983, Olma being one of them. But in a moment of financial stress in 2013, and knowing it was one of the artworks in the house with a meaningful market value, I shipped it to Rachel Davis Gallery in Cleveland, where one can find avid collectors of Conover’s work. Ms. Davis did a wonderful job as it sold at auction for exactly what she said it would.
I will always miss Olma for sentimental reasons and because it is a great ceramic piece I enjoyed for thirty years. Olma’s place near the front door of the house remains open. But the special, timeless energy of the Conover creation now lives with others. That energy, rather than any assumed market value, is one of the reasons why Nancy collected art and built a dynamic ceramics collection.
Note: Lot Report from the Rachel Davis Gallery records the work as Ulma. The minor misspelling now accompanies the work in online auction references.