Permanent Collection

Search by Name
Browse by Name

Joe Bova

(b. 1941, Houston, Texas) lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Illustrious Frilled Footed Slug, 1973
porcelain, 8.25 x 17 x 6.75 inches, 93.39.16

Joe Bova loved to draw animals from early childhood, and after he grew up and served in the United States Air force from 1960 to 1964, he decided to attend college to study art. Although he thought that he would probably study painting or drawing, he became fascinated by watching other students throw pots on the wheel and decided to try it himself. Finding ceramics to be a direct and three-dimensional form of drawing, Bova devoted himself to the medium.[1] In 1967 he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Houston, and in 1969 he received a Master of Arts from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.


Left: Colorful Bird Bowl, 1973, porcelain, 5 x 9 x 5 inches, 93.39.50, Center: Beakware Bird Cup, 1975, porcelain, 2.75 x 10 x 3.25, 93.39.101, Right: Walking Winged Green Thing, 1975, porcelain, celadon, glaze, 6.5 x 23 x 9 inches, 93.39.260 Additional images below

Bova’s sculptural ceramic work conveys a sense of imagination and playfulness. He is most well-known for his animal-like and fantasy creature forms, which were at first inspired by hunting and fishing trips, and then were later inspired by the use of these creatures as symbols or totems. He mainly prefers using hand building techniques because it gives the work an expressive quality and records the evidence of his touch.

In the spring of 1971, under the auspices of the International Academy of Ceramics, the Tennessee Arts Commission pledged its support for the promotion and establishment of the U.S. International Ceramic Symposiums. The Symposium’s mission to help develop a worldwide network of support for ceramic art was achieved by bringing together top ceramic artists from around the world for a month-long sharing of ideas and creation of innovative ceramics.


Left: Bova employs pressed textured sections to one of the animal forms, Right: Photo from the ICS 1975 catalogue

Bova represented the United States at the First U.S. International Ceramic Symposium, which consisted of twenty-five artists from thirteen different countries, and was hosted in the summer of 1973 at the Memphis Academy of Art. At the Symposium, he sculpted fantastical and whimsical animal forms using a combination of wheel thrown and hand built parts. Made entirely from his imagination, these works start off as one idea but organically transform into another as he plays with them. Two of these works, Colorful Bird Bowl and Beakware Bird Cup, are reflective of Bova’s interest in merging figure with vessel. His highly decorated porcelain forms were fired using opaque and celadon glazes, painted using low-fire paints, and then fired again. Two years after the Symposium, Bova also took part in the planning committee for the Second U.S. International Ceramic Symposium in 1975.

As a teacher, Bova worked from 1971 to 1990 at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and from 1990 to 2007 at Ohio University’s School of Art in Athens, Ohio, serving as the director of the program for eight years. Throughout this whole time, he continued his personal artistic practice. His later work incorporates more adult themes as well as an increased attention to socio-political issues, utilizing humor as a form of political critique.

A prolific exhibitor, Bova has taken part in over 200 combined solo, museum, and group shows. For his contributions to the arts, he has received numerous awards and distinctions, including a Fulbright Award to the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland (2011); an Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Council of Education for the Ceramic Arts (2006); and an elected membership into the International Academy of Ceramics (2005). He has served on the Board of Directors for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts from 1990-1996 and as their President from 1993-1994, and served on the Board of Trustees for Penland School of Crafts from 1992-1998 and as their President from 1997-1998. He has work in public collections including the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California; the Irish National Collection in Dublin, Ireland; the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemet, Hungary; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California; the Mint Muesum of Craft + Deisgn in Charlotte, North Carolina; and at his alma mater, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

My work in ceramics, using animal imagery, was first inspired by the realities of hunting and fishing, and later by their power as symbols, surrogates and totems. For much of my career I have been making social and political commentary art, often also involving eroticism. In 2006-07, seeking a respite from the polemical, I returned to the earlier and abiding interest in animal forms and imagery with a new interest in integrating the vessel, namely the teapot, with the figure. The pot incognito, you might say. – Joe Bova[2]


[1] The Penland Book of Ceramics: Master Classes in Ceramic Techniques. Lark Books. 2008. Page 146.

[2] “The Marks Project.” Last modified January 1, 2018.  Retrieved from

Written by Aiden Layer, TN Arts Intern