Modern Design with – Ceramicist Harrison McIntosh

 Harrison McIntosh, California modernist potter and sculptor, passed away this week at the age of 102. Born in Vallejo, and raised in then dusty, rural Stockton, his first exposure to the art world was the Haggin Museum that opened in 1931 near his house. The museum’s director took an interest in Harrison’s talent, and the McIntosh family was supportive of his and his brother’s early interests in drawing and painting, especially their father, a talented pianist who never was able to quit his day job.

The family soon moved to Los Angeles where Harrison took classes in sculpture at Art Center and began working a job at a local exhibition space, the Foundation of Western Art. In keeping with their modern artistic sensibilities, his parents then bought a lot in Silver Lake in 1939 for $1,000 and hired Richard Neutra – then a struggling architect - to build a 900-square-foot house for them for $4,500. Harrison began setting up his studio in the garage. Neutra later became one of the best known of California’s mid-century architects. McIntosh’s excursion to the 1939 World’s Fair on San Francisco’s Treasure Island was life changing. At the Japanese Pavilion he watched a potter throw a pot on a wheel for the first time.

A gentle, soft-spoken man, McIntosh’s work embodies the Bauhaus principles of functionality combined with Japanese aesthetics; beauty pared down to its essence. He also relished the creative chemistry of grinding his own pigments for glaze recipes, always emphasizing the tactile pleasure of handmade objects.

His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian and the Louvre, and was recently included in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition California Design 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way" (2011–2012), His high aesthetic standards of elegance and technique made him a a pioneer in the post World War II Southern California crafts movement.

He continued to work until his eyesight diminished in 2002, and to live in the rustic modern house built by architect Fred McDowell 41 years ago for him and his wife, Marguerite, in the Padua Hills area of Claremont.

Images: Courtesy American Museum of Ceramic Art