Iowa Ceramics


The following is designed to provide information learned by those that came before you over the years. This intended to be an evolving online handbook of sorts for new graduate students, and a resource to come back to from time to time when needed. It’s our hope that this proves helpful as you make a life for yourself here, and helps you succeed in making the best work, and having the best experience possible, as a graduate student in Ceramics at The University of Iowa.

It’s worth mentioning that you’ve come to an amazing place. There are people here who can and will help you with any possible question, problem, suspicion, and quagmire you face. We are a family – and care about each other’s success and lives in and outside of the studio. There may be other programs out there with fancier faculty members, and in fancier cities, but you’d be hard pressed to find a program with as much heart, better facilities, and as much character as this one. We are among the premier MFA programs in the country, and are only growing stronger and more established as time passes.

Your role here is part of this evolution. You have been chosen specifically – not by accident, and not by happenstance, because of what your instructors believe you have to offer this place, and what we believe we have to offer you. Not everyone is the correct fit for this program, but we believe you are, and we have been doing this for some time… so odds are we’re on the right track. Take comfort and encouragement in knowing that we believe in your abilities, and your work, and want to do everything to help you make the most of this experience. 

The School of Art and Art History at The University of Iowa

Original University of Iowa Art building, 1938, University Archives, UI libraries.

Original University of Iowa Art building, 1938, University Archives, UI libraries.

So - a few introductory items about The School of Art and Art History to give you some context of where the school has been.

The first Art History course at The University of Iowa was offered in the year 1900, and the Department of “Art History and Appreciation” was founded in 1920. In 1922 the school became the first Art program in the nation to accept creative work in lieu of a thesis, and thus began the initial stages of what came to be known as “The Iowa Idea”… e.g., the merging of Studio Art and Art History programs for the betterment of all students interested in art.

In 1924, Eve Drewelowe became the first M.A. degree in fine arts, and in 1934 University President Walter Jessup laid the cornerstone for what was then the new art building. Its remains are still present between the current art buildings and the Iowa river, where it has been dormant since the flood of 2008. There is some dispute historically about which university was chronologically the first to offer the MFA degree, but it is generally understood to be either the University of Iowa, or Yale. However, it is factual that in1940, Elizabeth Catlett simultaneously became the first person, woman, and African American in the United States to earn the MFA degree. She was a student of Grant Wood, and is the namesake of the newest dormitory on campus, across the river from the art school and dedicated in 2017.

Between the years of 1946-1962, owing to the influence of the G.I. Bill, the University of Iowa awarded more graduate arts degrees than any other university in the country. Notable faculty during this period include: Grant Wood, H.W. Janson, Phillip Guston, David Hockney, Mauricio Lasansky, and Byron Burford.

Between 1959 and 1976 new wings were added on the original art building, as well as separate areas for Ceramics and Metals, Printmaking, and Sculpture. Intermedia was added during this period, founded by Hans Breder. Also in 1969, the University of Iowa Museum of Art opened in a building (also still on campus but no longer operating as the museum) designed by Max Abramovitz. Notable students and faculty during this time were Miriam Shapiro, Riva Castleman, Charles Ray, Ana Mendieta, among many others not mentioned.

In 1993 the Arts campus was closed for the summer as it fell victim to the first of two devastating floods – the initial only causing minor damage.

2006 brought the opening of Art Building West, designed by Steven Holl and Associates, and in 2008 the Arts campus was nearly destroyed by the second of the two floods the campus has faced since its genesis.  

After eight years in a former big-box store, The University of Iowa Visual Arts Building opened in the fall of 2016, also designed by Steven Holl and Associates.


Arial view of Art Building West and Visual Arts Building, Steven Holl and Associates, 2017.

Arial view of Art Building West and Visual Arts Building, Steven Holl and Associates, 2017.

Ceramics at The University of Iowa

Early ceramics faculty were Glenn Nelson, Jerry Rothman, and Norm Schulman. It's not clear of who was first, or the order of their employment. It is true that in 1977 Bunny McBride was driving from Alfred, New York, home to Bozeman, Montana, when he received a call from Dan Rhodes, then head of ceramics at Alfred. Dan had heard that Iowa needed a ceramics professor, and instructed Bunny to stop on the way and interview. Bunny was hired on the spot, and taught until his retirement in 2010. Bunny’s direct colleague in ceramics for the bulk of that time was Chuck Hindes, who was hired in 1979, and taught nearly as long, retiring in 2006. Reagan Yoder was hired as Ceramics Technician and Lab Supervisor in 1993, and will retire at the end of the coming year, in the spring of 2018. Adjunct and Visiting faculty in ceramics during this period were many, but some that are known are Clary Illian, Mitsuo Kakatani, Jill Lawley, Alisa Holen, Mat Rude, Josh Van Stippen, Benj Upchurch, and Andrew Casto.

In 2010 Mat Rude was hired to a tenure-track line in ceramics, and became the only full-time ceramics professor in light of the consolidation of several areas and a goal to be a more interdisciplinary department. Mat left the university in 2014 for a position at Gonzaga University, and was replaced by a visiting line held by Eliza Au for two years. In 2016, Andrew Casto was hired to fulfill the vacated tenure-track position. 

Ceramics handbuilding classroom area, 2016.

Ceramics handbuilding classroom area, 2016.

Dimensional Practice and Ceramics Curriculum

Work by Josh Van Stippen, Instructor in Ceramics.

Work by Josh Van Stippen, Instructor in Ceramics.

Ceramics is part of the Dimensional Practice area, which includes 3D Design, Metals, and Sculpture. We maintain individual course listings though, and separate degree emphasis tracks.

Courses currently offered in Ceramics are:

Forms in Clay 1

Forms in Clay 2

Advanced Clay Forming 3

Advanced Clay Forming 4

Undergraduate Ceramics Workshop (offered with sufficient enrollment)

Ceramics Materials and Effects (offered every other year)

Kiln Building (offered occasionally – although present building regulations prevent new kiln construction)

Ceramics Installation and Environments (offered every other year)

Graduate Ceramics Workshop