Karl Martz (What I Discovered)

Written By: Ed Shears

Karl Martz was an American potter, ceramic artist, and teacher who lived in Columbus, Ohio, USA, from 1912 to 1997. When Karl Martz worked, he made things out of clay, stoneware, and porcelain. Known for …

Karl Martz was an American potter, ceramic artist, and teacher who lived in Columbus, Ohio, USA, from 1912 to 1997. When Karl Martz worked, he made things out of clay, stoneware, and porcelain. Known for making pottery with clay slabs. Emphasized the correct use of basic clay tools as a teacher at the School of Fine Arts at Indiana University from 1941 to 1968.

Karl Martz

BornJune 23, 1912 in Columbus, Ohio
DiedMay 27, 1997 in Bloomington, Indiana
NationalityAmerican
Known ForCeramic Art
SpouseMargaret Rebekah “Becky” Brown
StyleClay no longer needs to be round. It can have any shape you can imagine. Karl’s technique frees us from the wheel
EducationIndiana University in 1933

Karl Martz Background

Karl Martz was born in 1912 in Columbus, Ohio, USA, to Velorus Martz, a high school principal who subsequently became a professor of education at Indiana University, and Amy Lee Kidwell Martz. He was the son of Velorus Martz and Amy Lee Kidwell Martz.

Martz earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Indiana University in 1933 and went on to work for the company.

“While I was in high school, the whole family took a motor trip through the West. The car got into the sand in New Mexico and ripped out its differential, and we were stuck waiting for its replacement. So we put up our tent and stayed for a couple of weeks. I entertained myself in part by making little pots and firing them in a pit. I’d read the Indians did this. I still have one of them.”

Karl Martz

Karl Martz’s Education And Career

During a summer study at Ohio State University in 1931, Martz had his first taste of what it was like to work in a professional ceramic art workshop. Griffith Pottery in Nashville, Brown County, Indiana, a popular tourist resort and artist colony, hired Martz to work with them over the summer of 1932 to improve their glaze recipes.

Martz earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1933, and went on to work for the company. During the summer of 1933, he returned to work at Griffith Pottery. Martz returned to Ohio State University in 1933-34 to pursue graduate studies in ceramic art under the supervision of Arthur E. Baggs, Carlton Atherton, and Edgar Littlefield.

He spent a year as an apprentice at Brown County Pottery, where he learned his craft. In 1935, he established a series of rustic studios in the woods outside Nashville, Indiana, which would eventually become his home.

Around 1936, Martz was found by Scott Murphy, an art collector who had a summer residence in Nashville, Indiana, and who would become his later patron.

Murphy provided the funds for Martz to relocate his workshop from its remote position in the woods to downtown Nashville, where he would be exposed to a greater number of tourists. Murphy also contributed to the construction of a new showroom.

Martz was extraordinarily productive between the years 1935 to 1942 when he produced brightly colored pottery. His work was shown in the National Ceramic Exhibition in Syracuse, New York, in 1936 and 1937, and it was also featured in the exhibit circuit during those years.

This was the first of many opportunities for widespread exposure that he would receive for the rest of his life. According to Ernie Pyle, a nationally syndicated writer who covered Martz in 1940, Martz was as follows:

Karl Martz (What I Discovered)

I discovered Karl Martz seems like a reserved, soft-spoken man who is gratefully polite. He does not use esoteric terminology. In his house, the parlor serves as the display space. Today, it’s my understanding they filled it with some of the most exquisite pieces of pottery made.

It’s almost as though each item has its personality and has a soul. It’s as if he seems he can’t manufacture a copy of anything. The inventiveness and craftsmanship that he infuses into his clay are truly quite moving to witness.

All this is good and interesting, but what I discovered is his slab style of creating ceramic art. I fell in love with creativity. Clay no longer needs to be round. It can have any shape you can imagine. Karl’s technique frees us from the wheel.

“Over the past several years, I have used Karl’s techniques and can say firsthand they work well. It does take practice and some trial and error to get the style perfected, but overall, this is one of my favorite artists and techniques. Bravo for Karl showing us there is more to clay than the wheel!!!”

Ed Shears

Karl Martz Legacy

Tourist activity in Brown County, Indiana, had virtually ended by 1942 as a result of World War II gas rationing restrictions. Martin Martz worked as a ceramics researcher at the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Company and the Armour Research Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, for the remainder of World War II. In 1944, he worked as a part-time ceramics instructor at the Chicago Institute of Design, which was run by László Moholy-Nagy, as well as at Hull House.

Henry Radford Hope hired Martz in the spring of 1945, and the rest is history. From 1941 to 1968, Hope served as chair of the Fine Arts Department (later known as the School of Fine Arts) at Indiana University. Martz began his career as a ceramic art instructor. Because ceramic equipment was difficult to come by after the war, the university acquired all of Martz’s previous private studio equipment as well as all of his materials.

Through his work as an educator and a ceramic artist, Martz gained national and worldwide acclaim over the following four decades. The 1950s saw the beginning of his sculptural work in stoneware, followed by porcelain inspired by Asian culture, and the continuation of his functional and sculptural earthenware.

Martz took part in the important summer workshop at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1952, when he collaborated with artists such as Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, Marguerite Wildenhain, Peter Voulkos, and Warren MacKenzie, among others.

Martz and Harvey Littleton spent ten days in 1957 at the famous Jugtown Pottery near Seagrove, North Carolina, learning traditional salt-glazed stoneware techniques. Martz and Harvey Littleton were married in 1957.

The 1960s and 1970s saw him spend two sabbatical months in Japan, which had a significant impact on his work. In 1965, he was elected President of the Ceramics Education Council of the American Ceramic Society, which is a position he held until his death in 1997. (ACS).

In 1966, he was a driving force behind the secession of that group from the American Ceramic Society (ACS) and the establishment of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) (NCECA).

In 1992, he was named a Fellow of the American Craft Council, an honor that he has held since.

Karl Martz Awards

As president of the Ceramics Education Council, which is affiliated with the American ceramic society, Martz was chosen in 1965. (ACS). As president, he played a key role in the group’s departure from the American Ceramic Society (ACS) and the establishment of the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) in 1966.

On the occasion of Martz’s retirement, a significant retrospective exhibition was mounted at the Indiana University Art Museum in 1977. In 1992, he was named a fellow of the American Craft Council, which is a prestigious honor.

Kathy M. McKimmie writes about Martz in her novel Clay Times Three, which was published in 2009.

Examples of his work can be found (or were found) in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Lisbon, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the IBM Corporation, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul, the Hall Collection at the University of Nebraska, and several museums in Indiana, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Indianapolis Museum of

Karl Martz Life

“I built a kiln out in the woods. Didn’t know a thing about building kilns, of course. I got a big 20-gallon stoneware crock, knocked the bottom out to get a draft, and put a pan underneath to drip oil into so the flame would come up through. Can you believe this? It smoked great clouds, and the neighbors thought we were running a moonshine still. But I could get copper reds on the bottom and chrome reds on top, all in the same firing. Pretty soon I talked my dad into financing a real kiln.”

Karl Martz

He tied the knot with Margaret Rebekah “Becky” Brown in 1935. Martz’s first kiln was erected just south of Nashville, Indiana, where they resided for a time in a little cabin on a hill overlooking the town.

A cabin in the woods north of Nashville, Indiana was soon rented by the couple. Eric was born in 1940, and Brian was born in 1942, and they had two boys. Becky learned how to make ceramics from her husband, who started by making modest objects to sell to visitors. Over the years, Becky has developed her unique style, creating lovely and quirky animal sculptures that have gained her a cult following in the local community.

Martz planned and built a home and studio on the outskirts of Nashville, Indiana, known as the “Martz Studio,” mostly with his own hands, beginning in 1949. Martz was a pioneer in the field of experimental music. In 1954, the family relocated to Bloomington, Indiana, for the academic year to allow their two sons to attend the University School, which was academically far superior to the school in Nashville, Indiana, where they had previously lived.

Eric went on to become a professor of biological science, and Brian went on to become a musician and music professor. They continued to spend their weekends and summers at their Nashville Martz Studio, where they continued to make and sell pottery until 1961 when they sold it and relocated to a modest home at 105 N. Overhill Drive in Bloomington, Indiana, where their lives had become centered.

Karl Martz End Of A Legacy

When they moved home, they transformed the connected garage into a ceramic studio, where Martz and his wife continued to create pottery and ceramic sculpture until their health began to decline.

Martz had an unpretentious and modest manner, preferring to be referred to as a potter rather than a potter. He has struggled with depression for the majority of his life. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, he liked acting in plays at the Brown County Theater, including some that were written or directed by Joseph Hayes. He played the piano, primarily boogie-woogie, and occasionally entertained his children and nieces by telling them stories that were accompanied by music.

Martz battled aggressive prostate cancer in his final years, and as a result of macular degeneration, it rendered him practically blind. He also suffered from substantial hearing loss. He died on May 27, 1997, from natural causes, just a few months before his 85th birthday, after failing to recover following gallbladder surgery.

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