Works of one of Oklahoma’s favorite potters, John Frank, are featured in a newexhibition, Oklahoma Clay: Frankoma Pottery, opening Friday, April 20, at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. The exhibit features a selection of work from Frank’s Oklahoma-based pottery factory that manufactured unique and collectable ceramics for more than 50 years. Highlights include a group of individual pieces made by the potter.
“This exhibit gives the University a great opportunity to honor the pioneer contributions made by John Frank to our School of Art, especially our ceramics program,” said OU President David L. Boren. “He came from the Chicago Arts Institute to start the ceramics program at OU. Using Oklahoma clay, he shaped ceramic pieces that would make him well known across Oklahoma and even around the world. Countless Oklahoma dinner tables were graced with his dinner ware.”
The Museum Association will host the opening day reception at 7 p.m. and invites the public to attend the complimentary reception.
“It is a great pleasure to celebrate the life and works of a true Oklahoma artist,” said Ghislain d’Humières, director of the art museum at OU. “John Frank’s legacy continues both in the artistic integrity and the continued collectivity of works created in his factory nearly 80 years ago.”
In 1927, Frank founded a ceramics program at OU, where he taught for eight years. While teaching at the university, he established Frankoma Pottery, using local clays with colors and designs symbolic of the Southwest and Great Plains.
His tableware fit the modern mode of living and was well-crafted at affordable prices. This exhibition surveys some of the most iconic pieces Frankoma produced and the frontier spirit of Oklahoma that inspired Frank’s work.
The April 20 opening for Oklahoma Clay: Frankoma Pottery is preceded by a daylong symposium at the museum. Scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Decorative Arts and the American West – the seventh biennial symposium of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West – is free and open to the public, with a nominal charge for an optional luncheon. Noted scholars, museum curators and art historians will discuss such diverse topics as ranch-style furniture, regionally inspired pottery and silver-mounted saddles.
The exhibition is curated by Jane Ford Aebersold, curator emeritus of ceramics at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and retired professor at the OU School of Art and Art History. The exhibition runs through Sept. 16.
“Oklahoma Clay: Frankoma Pottery is a celebration of the vision of John Frank and his wife, Grace Lee, and of the talented designers, artisans and engineers who were part of the larger Frankoma family,” said Aebersold. “Their goal was to provide cheerful and colorful tableware and decorative accents to fit into the modern mode of living, well-crafted but affordable for a family of modest means.”
A child of early 20th-century Chicago, Frank honed his ceramics skills at the Art Institute of Chicago under the tutelage of noted ceramicist Myrtle Meritt French. In 1927, Frank was hired by Oscar Jacobson, director of the OU School of Art, to develop a new ceramics program for the university.
After eight years, Frank resigned to pursue a home studio project he had begun in 1933. The result was what eventually became Frankoma Pottery, a play on words combining his name with the state from which he drew local clay for his ceramic works.
Working with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, Frank had traveled the state in search of clay suitable for a small pottery production business. Frank decided upon a creamy, tan-colored clay found near Ada.
By 1936, production at Frankoma had begun, and the company was offering various sizes and styles of vases, pitchers, plates, bowls, ashtrays, animal figures, bookends, candleholders and flower frogs. In 1938, Sapulpa became the location for Frank’s factory. After 20 years, he transitioned to red clay acquired near Sapulpa, a medium he used exclusively for nearly 30 years.
“For many Oklahomans, Frankoma Pottery helped define the cultural landscape of the state during the mid-20th century,” said Mark White, Eugene B. Adkins Curator and chief curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. “Frankoma-colored dinnerware and decorative ceramics could be found in numerous homes throughout Oklahoma and the surrounding region.”
Frank’s stylized symbols not only captured Oklahoma culture, they became synonymous with thepioneering spirit of Frankoma Pottery.
“John Frank was committed to creating patterns and designs symbolic of the southwest,” said Aebersold. “He developed forms, glaze colors and textures that would express the colors and textures of the vast southwestern landscape. He designed dinnerware lines, the most iconic of which are Wagon Wheel, Mayan-Aztec andPlainsman.”
Frank died in 1973 and his daughter, Joniece Frank, became the company’s president and lead designer. The company suffered a disastrous fire in 1983 but reopened as a scaled-down plant three months later. Frankoma continued production under Frank family guidance until it was purchased in 1991 by an outside investor. It was resold numerous times over the next 20 years and, in spring 2011, the remains of Frankoma property were sold at auction.
Although its glory days ended in the 1980s, Frankoma Pottery works continue to rise in popularity among collectors. Frank’s works have appeared in exhibitions at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and are included in the International Ceramics Museum’s permanent collection in Faenza, Italy.
Today, Frankoma pieces rank among the 20 most popular collectibles in the United States.
“John Frank was a man of ambition and strength, who both made and seized opportunities and who succeeded in crafting, and realizing, his dream,” said Aebersold.
The museum will offer a free tour of the exhibition at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, led by Susan Baley, museum director of education.
The catalog is available for purchase in Muse, the museum store.
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located in the OU Arts District on the corner of Elm Avenue and Boyd Street, at 555 Elm Ave., on the OU Norman campus.
Admission to the museum is free to OU students with a current student ID and museum association members, $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for children 6 to 17 years of age, $2 for OU faculty/staff, and free for military veterans with proof and children 5 and under. The museum is closed on Mondays and admission is free on Tuesdays. The museum’s website is www.ou.edu/fjjma. Information and accommodations on the basis of disability are available by calling (405) 325-4938.