Don (Donald) Reitz (1929–2014) holds a special place in contemporary craft, particularly in ceramics. Not only did he reinvigorate salt- and wood-firing techniques, but he was also a beloved figure who inspired numerous artists and collectors.
Similar—and yet different—to Toshiko Takaezu, another legendary figure who impacted the course of ceramics in the twentieth century, there was no separating art and life for Reitz. While Takaezu seemed to orient the connection on day-to-day practices, Reitz related to the material in a way that it became an extension of his body and a reflection of profound personal circumstances. He appeared to live an adventurous life, loving nature at an early age and feeling connected to the earth (or “dirt”) from the first time he played in it. Reitz’s energetic spirit is most obviously reflected in ceramic objects with loopy handles, textural surfaces, and direct—or indirect—evidence of his hand.
This exhibition underscores RAM’s commitment to chronicling the career of Reitz, who spent 1962–88 living and working in Wisconsin while actively teaching as faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. There were already a handful of works by Reitz in RAM’s collection when a recent major gift from Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle catapulted the number of his pieces to over 60. This gift established an archive for Reitz and pushed him into the top three most-collected artists working primarily in clay in the collection.