An interview of Robert Sperry conducted 1983 August 11, by LaMar Harrington, for the Archives of American Art's Northwest Oral History Project.
Sperry speaks of his family background; his army service; his education; his early career in ceramics; the Oriental influence in his work; folk art; his contemporaries in ceramics; and his current plans. He recalls Peter Voulkos.
Biographical / Historical:
Robert Sperry (1927-1998) was a ceramist from Seattle, Washington.
Originally recorded on 3 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 6 digital wav files. Duration is 3 hr., 4 min.
This interview is part of the Archives' Northwest Oral History Project, begun in 1982 to document the Northwest artistic community through interviews with painters, sculptors, craftsmen, educators, curators, and others, in Oregon, Washington and Montana.
The papers of ceramicist Robert Sperry measure 13.6 linear feet and 0.907 GB and date from 1951-2002. The collection documents Sperry's career as an artist, teacher, and filmmaker through biographical information, correspondence, exhibition files, gallery files, material on projects and workshops, writings, a scrapbook, financial files, printed and digital material, photographs, moving image materials, and artwork.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of ceramicist Robert Sperry measure 13.6 linear feet and 0.907 GB and date from 1951-2002. The collection documents Sperry's career as an artist and teacher through biographical information, correspondence, exhibition files, gallery files, material on projects and workshops, writings, a scrapbook, financial files, printed and digital material, photographs, video recordings, films, and artwork.
Biographical files contain items outlining Sperry's career including resumes, teaching evaluations, awards, and interviews. Correspondence includes general correspondence with family, friends, colleagues, schools, galleries, art organizations, and publications as well as named files for those with whom Sperry exchanged a significant amount of correspondence over a long period of time. The Exhibition Files contain materials on group and solo exhibitions Robert Sperry participated in, while Gallery Files hold material, such as correspondence and contracts, related to the galleries which exhibited Sperry's work primarily after 1979. The Project and Workshop Files in Series 5 contain material related to public commissions he completed and workshops he gave during the 1980s and 1990s.
Writings encompass writings by Sperry and others. Sperry's writings vary greatly and include drafts of articles, a family history, poetry, notes and a screenplay, while writings by others are primarily essays on art. Within this series Sperry's event calendars are also found. Sperry compiled a scrapbook which spans 1955 to 1964 and includes correspondence and printed material about exhibitions and newspaper clippings which feature his artwork. He and his wife, Patti Warashina, also compiled Financial Records primarily of their business and living expenses from 1976 to 1984 and earnings as artists and professors at the University of Washington.
The largest series in this collection, Printed Material, provides information largely on Sperry's career through press clippings, exhibition announcements, catalogs, and publications, and also includes other materials on ceramics in general. The Photographs series contains both photos and negatives from Sperry's trip to Japan to film "Village Potters of Onda" as well as photographs of his artwork and his family. Also found in this collection are a few sketches and drawings by Sperry and one drawing by Patti Warashina. Moving image material includes video recordings and motion picture film with a wide range of content, including documentaries about Sperry, studio footage, and experimental and narrative films created by Sperry in a range of styles and genres, including animation such as the animated film "Henry," hand colored film, live action footage, abstract design, and narrative short films by Sperry. There are digital research copies of some of the films.
The Robert Sperry papers are arranged as thirteen series, according to type of material. Each series is arranged either in rough chronological or alphabetical order.
Series 1: Biographical Files, 1954-circa 2000, undated (Box 1; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence Files, 1951-2000, undated (Boxes 1-2; 0.9 linear feet)
Series 3: Exhibition Files, 1963-1999, undated (Boxes 2-3; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Gallery Files, 1960-2000, undated (Boxes 3-4; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 5: Project and Workshop Files, 1967-1996, undated (Box 4; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 6: Writings, 1966-1990, undated (Box 5; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Scrapbook, 1955-1964 (Box 5; 8 folders)
Series 8: Financial Records, 1961-1995, undated (Boxes 5-6; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 9: Miscellaneous Subject Files, 1975-1998, undated (Box 6; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 10: Printed Material, 1955-2002, undated (Boxes 6-10; 3.4 linear feet)
Series 11: Photographs, 1963, undated (Box 10; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 12: Sketches and Drawings, 1984, undated (Box 10; 2 folders)
Series 13: Moving Image Material, circa 1962-1998, undated (Boxes 10-12, FC 13-18; 3.1 linear feet, ER01; 0.907 GB)
Robert Sperry was born in Bushnell, Illinois, in 1927. He grew up on his family's farm in Druid, Saskatchewan, Canada, and in 1945 was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he first developed an interest in art. After serving in the military, he returned home and completed his B.A. at the University of Saskatchewan in 1950 and a B.F.A. at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1953. While working on his B.A. he met and married Edyth MacDonald and they had one child, Van, in 1950. Sperry spent one summer as Artist in Residence at the Archie Bray Foundation, in Helena, Montana, and then moved his family to Seattle so that he could complete his M.F.A. at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1955 he stayed at the University and became a professor, teaching ceramics until retiring in 1982. During this time, Sperry widely exhibited his clay vessels in both group and solo exhibitions and was active in the American Craft Council.
When not teaching, Robert Sperry pursued his interest in photography and filmmaking and, in 1963, traveled to Japan to make "Village Potters of Onda," a project that included a documentary film and a collection of black and white photographs. Sperry continued experimenting with film and, in 1967, created a fictional film entitled, "Profiles Cast Long Shadows," which was shown at film festivals throughout the United States. After abandoning another film project in 1970 while going through a divorce, he returned to ceramics as his focus. During the 1970s Sperry developed his techniques, modifying glazes and moving away from the vessel shape. In 1976 Sperry married Patti Warashina, fellow ceramicist and professor at the University of Washington. He began producing murals, which led to several public commissions such as a mural for the IBM Field Engineering Educational Center in Atlanta, created in 1983. Robert Sperry: A Retrospective, was exhibited in 1985-1986 at the Bellevue Art Museum, however, Sperry would continue producing and exhibiting new work, and giving lectures and workshops for thirteen more years, until his death in 1998.
Also found in the Archives of American Art are the Patti Warashina papers, circa 1900-1991. An online finding aid is available.
The Robert Sperry papers were donated by Sperry's wife Patti Warashina in 2003 and 2004.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.