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Robert Sperry papers, 1951-2002

Robert Sperry papers, 1951-2002

Sperry, Robert H., 1927-1998

Ceramicist

Collection Information

Size: 12.6 linear ft.

Summary: 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 material, photographs, 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. 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. Video recordings include two documentaries on Sperry, studio footage, exhibition footage. Motion picture film includes footage for Sperry's film "Profiles Cast Long Shadows" as well as other short films in a range of styles, including animation, hand coloring, abstract, and narrative films by Sperry. Film available on DVD include "Familiar Thickets", Celanton Painting", "Room", "Hamada", Skull Waves at Deception Pass", "Family", "Experimental Color Print", and "Food Color".

Biographical/Historical Note

Ceramicist, filmmaker, professor of ceramics; Seattle, Wash.; b. 1927; d. 1998. Born in Illinois, Robert Sperry completed his B.A. at the University of Saskatchewan in 1950 and a B.F.A. at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1953. He completed his M.F.A. at the University of Washington, where he stayed to teach ceramics until retiring in 1982. Sperry widely exhibited his clay vessels in group and solo exhibitions and was active in the American Craft Council. Robert Sperry also pursued interests in photography and filmmaking and in 1963 traveled to Japan to complete a documentary film project "Village Potters of Onda". In 1976, Robert Sperry married Patti Warashina, fellow ceramicist and professor at the University of Washington.

Provenance

Donated 2003- 2004 by Patti Warashina, Sperry's widow, as a part of the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Art in America.

A Finding Aid to the Robert Sperry Papers,
1951-2002
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.sperrobe
Biographical Note
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. He 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.
Arrangement
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)
Provenance
Donated 2003- 2004 by Patti Warashina, Sperry's widow, as a part of the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Art in America.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Erin E. Corley in 2004 as part of the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Art in America. Motion picture film reels were inspected and re-housed in 2017 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Robert Sperry papers, 1951-2002. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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