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Sandra Blain

(b. 1941, Chicago, Illinois) lives and works in Arizona
Totem, 1975
stoneware, salt glaze, 36 x 14 inches, 93.39.247

Sandra Blain received her B.S. in Education in 1964 from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, and she earned her M.S. in Art in 1967 and her M.F.A in Ceramics in 1972 from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Throughout her graduate education, she held a joint appointment in East Tennessee as an assistant director at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg and as a teaching faculty member at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Reflecting a deep interest surface and texture, Blain prefers hand building ceramics so that she can better manipulate the plasticity of the clay. She is known to incorporate sand, vermiculite, and organic matter that burns away during firing into her constructions in order to create both heavily textured as well as smooth surfaces. To add to this focus on surface variation, Blain uses combinations of metallic oxides and a variety of glazes to create subtle shifts in color.

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: Blain, ICS 1975, Throws a pedestal for one of her large hand built construction forms Center: Blain works on a solid slab cylinder form, Right: James Darrow (L) and Blain (R), ICS 1975, photo in 1975 catalogue, work is Totem by Sandra Blain, 93.39.247 Additional images and video below

Blain represented the United States at the Second U.S. International Ceramic Symposium, which consisted of twelve artists from seven different countries, and was hosted in the summer of 1975 at the Arrowmont School of Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Since she was an assistant director at Arrowmont at the time, Sandra was instrumental in the planning and preparation for hosting the Symposium artists. She also participated as an artist at the Symposium, primarily working with hand building to create slab-built vessels and cylindrical forms. Blain’s largest work, Totem, contains many wheel thrown mouths and spouts, which stem from her family’s background in horticulture and her interest in flower arranging.

Following the Symposium, Blain devoted herself to her two positions full-time, serving as the director of Arrowmont from 1980 to 2001 and teaching at the University of Tennessee from 1969 to 2004, earning the title of professor in 1984. She was highly influential in these two jobs, working to provide educational programming to countless students over her career. In 2004, she moved to Arizona where she set up a ceramic studio, where she has continued to produce sculptural and functional work. In 2006 she started working as a ceramic instructor at the Mesa Art Center in Mesa, Arizona.

Throughout her extensive work as an educator and arts administrator, Blain has maintained a strong studio practice, and has taken part in over 250 juried, invitational, university, and community exhibitions throughout the Southern and Midwestern United States. She is the recipient of a number of awards for her contributions to the arts, including the Tennessee Arts Commission’s Gordon Holl Outstanding Arts Administrator Award (1999), the Tennessee Art Education Association Administrator of the Year Award (2001), Director Emeritus from Arrowmont (2001), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Highland Craft Guild (2003), and Professor Emeritus from the University of Tennessee Knoxville (2005). She is an honorary member of the Tennessee Artist Craftsmen’s Association, the Kappa Pi International Honorary Art Fraternity, and the American Craft Council. Her work can be found in public collections including at the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum in Alfred, New York; the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina; the Oak Ridge Art Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, Louisiana; the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Illinois; the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee; Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; and her alma mater of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“I’ve always had to work in the studio and be a practicing artist. It was a struggle for me to find the time, but it was never a struggle to find the interest. It was always there, even though the hours were long at my other position.” – Oral history interview with Sandra Jean Blain, May 19, 2009 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Instructional video with Blain:


Left: Low Bowl, 1975, clay, 7.5 x 20 x 18 inches, 93.39.13 Center: Pinch Pot Textured Form, 1975, clay, 6.25 x 5 x 5 inches, 93.39.20 Right: Cylinder, 1975, stoneware, 14 x 4.25 x 4.25 inches, 93.39.76

Written by Aiden Layer, TN Arts Intern