Lifting the Veil: The Ceramic Legacy of Harding Black

August 21, 2015 Amanda Norman
Harding Black in the studio

Harding Black maintained a passion for teaching the ceramic arts throughout his life. After retiring from his teaching position at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Black continued to work with at-risk children on his own time. Harding Black Collection and Archive #3911, box 11, folder 6.

Harding Black flame glaze test bowl, MG0931

This test bowl features a flame glaze, a composition that Black spent decades developing. By applying a second glaze on top of a base glaze, a linear pattern may emerge as the topmost glaze flows downward, which can form the image of a flame motif. Harding Black Collection and Archive #3911.

By Josh Garland, Museum Studies graduate student

On August 14, The Texas Collection opened a special exhibit of ceramic works by Harding Black, one of the pioneers of the American studio ceramics movement.

Harding Black was born near Aransas Pass, Texas, in 1912. As a young man, he became interested in pottery after excavating ancient Native American sites near Big Bend, Texas. These early explorations would set Black on the path to rediscovering some of the ancient world’s most elusive glazes.

Heralded in his own lifetime as “the Dean of Texas Ceramics,” Black had no formal training in the fields to which he dedicated his life. He was taught to throw clay in the early 1930s by his friend Rudolf Staffel, who would himself go on to be recognized as a master ceramist. Black began teaching children’s ceramic classes at San Antonio’s Witte Museum soon after, and also supervised projects for the Works Progress Administration.

Although Black was capable of producing remarkable ceramic forms–bowls, vases, sculptures–his true passion, and indeed the foundation of his legacy, lay in glaze research. By building on the work of prominent researchers such as Charles Fergus Binns and Edgar Littlefield, Black succeeded in his pursuit of the ancient Chinese copper red glaze, publishing his findings in the inaugural issue of Ceramics Monthly, in January 1953.

Black’s love of ancient glazes would lead him to significant developments not only in copper reds, but also in Eastern glazes such as celadons and oilspots, along with Scandinavian satin mattes, and many others. Black shared his research freely, asking only that others continue to extend his work.

Harding Black celadon test vase, MG2005

Black’s true passion in life was glaze research. He was particularly interested in ancient Eastern glazes, such as celadon, seen here on a test vase. By altering the composition of the glaze, Black was able to achieve a variety of hues, ranging from the traditional pale green, to brilliant blues and yellows. Harding Black Collection and Archive #3911.

Black continued to work into his 80s, but decades of throwing clay and mixing glazes had taken a toll on his health. In 1995, Black donated his extensive collection of research notes and nearly 12,000 ceramic objects from his personal collection to Baylor University.

In 2015, The Texas Collection partnered with the Department of Art on a major effort to process and digitize Harding Black’s extensive collection of glaze notebooks and photographically document thousands of ceramic pieces to create a digital collection of Black’s work, ensuring that his research would be available to future generations of ceramic artists and researchers. Texas Collection staff member Amanda Dietz supervised the project, with museum studies graduate student Josh Garland and undergraduate student Amanda Means contributing.

Harding Black Test vase, blue-green lava glaze,-MG2400

Although known primarily for his work with Eastern glazes, Black also conducted significant research on Western glazes. This test vase features a lava glaze, and illustrates Black’s ability to craft ceramic objects that seem almost to have been pulled from nature. Harding Black Collection and Archive #3911.

With archival efforts completed, The Texas Collection is proud to host the exhibit, Lifting the Veil: The Ceramic Legacy of Harding Black. This exhibition features dozens of stunning pieces by Black, curated by Baylor University professor and ceramist Paul McCoy. The exhibition runs from August 14 – October 14, at The Texas Collection. In addition, The Texas Collection will host a reception on September 24, from 3:30 – 5 pm, where McCoy will present a lecture on the life and art of Harding Black. Located in The Texas Collection’s Guy B. Harrison, Jr. Reading Room, the exhibition, lecture, and reception are free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Paul McCoy at


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