I will always cherish the personal times and experiences I shared with Don. They were filled with Don’s amazing energy which was stimulated by his love of ceramics. During the times we spent together, he enjoyed telling stories about his life and the events which affected his destiny.
Once I asked him why he drew butterfly designs on many of his wall plaques and murals. He replied “When I was a young boy, my father kept telling me that I was just like a butterfly. He said that I just flitted from one thing to another and would never amount to anything.” I guess Don finally flitted to a flower that had a little dirt on it because he found that he could fashion that dirt into marvelous creations. Just like centering clay on a wheel, Don found his own center which led him down a challenging road to a career in ceramic art. Many don’t know this, but Don was the only student I know of who was accepted into Alfred University, under the tutelage of Val Cushing, for a Master’s Degree in ceramics WITHOUT first having earned a Bachelor’s degree.
At times during his life, Don suffered physical injuries which left him temporarily handicapped. However, in spite of those injuries he always found a way to work with clay and to create his own unique works of art. He has lectured and exhibited his work all over the world including Europe, Asia and Northern America. He was loved by everyone wherever he went and all marveled at his never-ending vigor and vitality. Some time ago, one of his many fans commented on the source of Don’s incredible energy. It’s simple he said, “Don eats sparklers for breakfast”.
Don became a pioneer in the field of ceramics and always experimented with new ways to express himself. He re-popularized salt firing in the days when studio pottery here in the United States was in its infancy. He was a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for 24 years and later after his retirement he was given the honor of emeritus professor. He helped found NCECA and served as one of its presidents. A few years after a terrible automobile accident in 1982, he moved to Clarkdale, Arizona, where he spent the rest of his life working in the “dirt” (Don liked to call clay dirt). There he built his own kilns, made his own art and helped to change the image of ceramics from a craft to a legitimate art form.
Today, Don lives on through his ceramic art and his influence on others. He will always be an inspiration to anyone who wants to be an artist. Indeed, Don’s dad was right, Don was a butterfly, but he didn’t flit from one thing to another, he was a Monarch in the field of clay.
Please take the time to see a display of Don Reitz’s work at the American Museum of Ceramic Art starting April 12th 2014.
American Museum of Ceramic Art