Jean Griffith, Seattle’s Patron Saint of Pottery

It took just one ceramics class at the UW to inspire this clay maven to cofound Pottery Northwest.
Brangien Davis  |   March 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Jean Griffith at Pottery Northwest, which she co-founded in 1966

If you’ve ever considered taking a pottery class, heed this gentle warning from local clay maven Jean Griffith: “All you have to do is touch it and you’re hooked.”

She would know. After casually taking a ceramics class at UW in 1957, the now 93-year-old Griffith ended up cofounding Pottery Northwest in 1966 and serving as the nonprofit teaching studio’s director for more than 30 years.

Widely acknowledged as the fire in Pottery Northwest’s belly, Griffith started out on a different path. With an undergraduate degree in art and fashion, she worked as a technical illustrator for Boeing during WWII. After marrying, she entered UW’s architecture program (studying under Victor Steinbrueck), but when she got pregnant, “that was the end of architecture.” Luckily for us, being a stay-at-home mom didn’t sit well. That first get-me-out-of-the-house pottery class led to an M.F.A. in ceramics (she was a local pioneer in raku forms) and becoming one of the first instructors at the organization that would turn out to be her life’s mission.

“I’m very proud that Pottery Northwest still exists,” Griffith says. “I hope it exists for another 100 years.”

What you need to know:

1. Griffith will receive a Regional Award of Excellence at the National Ceramics Conference (NCECA) in Seattle this month.

2. In honor of her longtime service to local arts, September 9, 2006 was proclaimed to be Jean Griffith Day by then Mayor Greg Nickels.

3. Pottery Northwest’s original location (1966-1973) was on a balcony of the Seattle Center’s Food Circus, provided free after the World’s Fair vacated. “It was pretty junky,” Griffith recalls. She remembers clay dripping onto the sign for the food stall below.

4. Griffith was instrumental in finding the studio’s current space, which opened in 1975.

5. Each year, about 500 students—and 15 tons of clay— pass through Pottery Northwest  (potterynorthwest.org).

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