Maija Grotell (American (born Finland), Helsinki 1899–1973 Pontiac, Michigan)
Made in Cranbrook, Michigan, United States
16 5/8 in., 14lb. (42.2 cm)
Gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr., 2017
Maija Grotell was one of the most significant potters working independently during the late 1930s. Although a relatively large number of women played important roles in the art pottery movement in the early twentieth century, few female ceramist were active between the first and second World War. Grotell was one of the exceptions. She began her career studying ceramics in her native Finland before immigrating to the United States in 1927 to work with Charles Binns at Alfred University. Then, like so many other potters, Grotell began teaching to sustain her career in ceramics. She first was part of the crafts program at the Henry Street Settlement House in New York and then she found a position at Rutgers University.
Grotell’s move to the Cranbrook Academy of Art, outside of Detroit, Michigan, marked the turning point in her career. Although she was initially turned down for a position because of her gender, Grotell was hired in 1938 as a pottery instructor (the post held previously, if only briefly, by Waylande Gregory). A consummate craftsman, Grotell evolved a sophisticated, geometric style at Cranbrook. At the same time, with access to a large kiln, she could throw pots on a scale far grander than previously. As seen in this tall cylindrical vase, Grotell’s decoration evolved into a strong, graphic idiom. The design was likely inspired directly by the architect Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook’s director, and his particular brand of modernism. Grotell’s bold, stepped design recalls the doors and ceilings that her compatriot created for Cranbrook, and which she would have experienced on a daily basis. Likewise, the vase’s concentric accentuated throwing rings echo Saarinen’s emphasis on craftsmanship. The integrity of her approach to ceramics inspired many American potters of the next generation.