LEFT TO RIGHT:
UNTITLED 1, 1951
UNTITLED 2, 1965
UNTITLED 3, 1960
UNTITLED 4, 1965
UNTITLED 5, 1950 (FROM THE ESTATE OF EERO SAARINEN)
(1907 - 1984, AMERICA)
Leza Marie McVey (1907–84) was an American studio potter and weaver, most widely known for her large scaled free-form ceramics from the 50’s and 60’s. McVey studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1927–1932 and at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center from 1943–-1944. In 1932 she married the sculptor William Mozart McVey, a successful artist in his own right. Between 1935 and 1947 the McVeys lived and worked in various locations in Texas. In 1947, William accepted a teaching position at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where Leza McVey expanded her art education and began her extraordinary ceramic career.
At Cranbrook, through her exposure both as a student and as a faculty wife, she met 3 individuals who had a tremendous effect on her art and craft. Maija Grotell was the head of the ceramics department and one of America’s premier ceramic artists. Swedish-born sculptor, Carl Milles, was head of Cranbrook’s sculpture department and a world renown artist. And Loja Saarinen, the wife of Eliel Saarinen, was the founder and head of the weaving department and a textile genius. Leza’s ceramic work was influenced by the forms of sculpture, the techniques of weaving, and the scale and glazes of Grotell’s pots.
In 1953 the McVeys moved to Cleveland, where they built a modernist house in a East Cleveland suburb. There Leza established a home-studio called "Pepper Pike”, named for her progressive, artistic neighborhood-community. Ahead of her time, McVey hand-built large-scale, biomorphic forms. Many were characteristically bottle-shaped with a ‘stopper’ in the opening. Her work was to help pave the way for modern ceramic art in the USA . She was one of the earliest potters to move away from wheel-built classic forms, long before Peter Voulkos famously did the same. Her sculptural stoneware and porcelain vessels display the influence of surrealism and her respect for natural organic forms, in contrast to the machine aesthetic prevalent in the pre-war era. She entered many National Ceramics competitions, often winning awards, and her career was celebrated with a major retrospective at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1965.
In the late 1960s, due to failing eyesight, McVey began to shift toward weaving, and her ceramic output was drastically reduced. She concentrated on tapestries and hooked rugs, relying on and perfecting principles she had learned at Cranbrook from the teachings and work of Loja Saarinen. She continued her textile work until her death in 1984.
Her ceramic and textile work can be found in many American museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Art Boston, Cleveland Museum of Art, Milwaukee Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, and the Everson Museum of Ceramic Art to name a few.
A long overdue study of Leza McVey’s work, The Ceramic Forms of Leza McVey, was written by Martin Eidelberg in mid 2003.