Connections Born From Clay

Doug and Ruth Crane

From the moment you enter Doug and Ruth Crane‘s household, it is clear the space is home to an avid pottery collector.

Vases, teapots, pitchers, and ceramics of all shapes and sizes line the walls, proudly displayed on neat shelves and in tidy cupboards. The collection includes work from a wide variety of artists and represents an assortment of styles, yet it all flows together effortlessly. “Ruth has a very eclectic collection but somehow everything seems to fit. People have always said that when they see it,” explains Doug.

For how extensive Ruth’s collection is now, you would never guess that it started almost by happenstance. “Doug and I went to an art fair where Peter Leach was showing work and I bought a big blue pitcher. I still have that pitcher and it’s still one of my favorites. That was kind of the start, it was just serendipity,” says Ruth with a smile.

After this fateful purchase, Ruth and Doug moved to Northfield, Minnesota where the couple developed a close friendship with an avid collector of Red Wing Pottery, Ron Linde. “We fell under the spell of Ron, who is renowned as a collector. He introduced us to the meetings of the Minnesota Art Pottery Collectors and members would bring items that they wanted to sell. That’s how I got started collecting production pottery,” explains Ruth.

Ruth Crane's pottery collection

The Northern Clay Center also played a crucial role in Ruth’s ceramics education and interest. “Having access to their exhibits and special events has been invaluable,” says Ruth. “The entire staff are some of my favorite people from Sarah Milfeldt, the director, to the gallery assistants.”

While Ruth got her start collecting production pottery, she later transitioned her collection to one-of-a-kind pieces from individual studio makers. Her most recent interest has been in vases, “Something about a pouring vessel is appealing to me, that’s gone on to include teapots. I just got a new teapot today.” Ruth stands up and takes out a beautiful light orange teapot with an elegantly curved handle. The piece is adorned with little swirls and spots in the glaze. The artist, Ruth explains, was a former minister turned potter who perfected a technique called carbon trapping to create the delicate swirls.

Throughout the conversation, Ruth is quick to take out pieces from her collection to illustrate the wide variety of styles found there. There’s a blue vase with a pigeon’s face on one side, complete with a hooked beak. Next to it stands a small black and white cup painstakingly decorated with detailed etching. “I don’t know how that artist can maintain the hand strength to do that,” comments Ruth.

Ruth's collection is eclectic but all fits together

Every piece in the collection has a story, a testament to the care with which Ruth selects each one and the connections she makes with the artists.

“Ruth will approach an artist, even somebody that she hasn’t purchased any work from before and will pick out a piece and they will say ‘Oh that’s one of my favorites.’ She has an amazing eye for each individual’s best work,” says Doug proudly. “I like to do dishes and when you have such a beautiful array of pottery, doing the dishes is really fun. I think of the person who made it while I wash and often tell that to our pottery friends. It’s a very personal connection,” he continues.

It is these personal connections and stories that will be shared with the College of Design community thanks to Ruth’s generous donation of her collection to the Goldstein Museum of Design. To support the collection in perpetuity, the Cranes have also established the Ruth Hanold Crane Collection Fund.

In doing so, the Cranes have provided an invaluable resource to students, faculty, and community members who wish to examine, learn from, and research the items in the Ruth Hanold Crane Collection. “I want student designers to be instructed and challenged and inspired by these pieces for their own work. That really means a lot,” concludes Ruth.

Learn more about Ruth’s collection and her upcoming exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Ruth Crane's collection.

All photos copyright of Daly Proof Photography.

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