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Ken Vavrek

(b. 1939) born in Cleveland, Ohio, lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Footed Pot, 1973
clay, 9.5 x 6 x 6 inches, 93.39.83

After receiving a B.F.A. in 1963 and a M.F.A. in 1965 from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, Ken Vavrek quickly became an art professor at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1970 to 2002.

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: Sky Wave. Photo is in the 1973 catalogue, Center and Right: Vavrek

Vavrek 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. While at the Symposium, he raku fired a series of covered jars which he called Islands, as well making a few copper-luster glazed planters. However, the majority of his efforts at the Symposium went to constructing Sky Wave, a nine by four foot large mural constructed out of fifty two raku-fired simplified bird forms, which were then attached to a plywood sheet.

In 2008, Vavrek started experimenting with using sculptural geometric forms as the basis for imagery painted in glaze, which is something he developed further when he started his abstract sectional wall works in 2012. These have an increased focus on surface quality and low relief, and demonstrate fusion of sculpture, painting, and ceramics into one form to create a dynamic work.

Vavrek has had numerous solo exhibitions in Pennsylvania and New England galleries, and has work represented in collections including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Center, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Fu Le International Ceramic Art Museums in Shaanxi, China.  He has received numerous craft fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Finding it fits his purpose and temperament, Ken works primarily in raku. He considers teaching to be an important part of his growth in that he gains from the stimulation of his students, as they learn from him. “My students help me to be reborn faster.” – 1973 International Ceramic Symposium catalogue

Written by Aiden Layer, TN Arts Intern