Friday, February 10, 2012

Teacher and Friend

Ray Grimm, My teacher and friend

The first time I met Ray was in the summer of 1965. I was living in Eugene and had taken ceramics at the University of Oregon with Bob James. I had become quite excited about it and had learned to throw on a kick wheel and help with kiln building. Since I was planning to move to Portland, I went to PSC (now Portland State University) to look at the art department. At the Art Department office the secretary said that the professor was in the ceramics studio if I wanted to talk to him. I went into the studio on the 2nd floor and there was Ray working on a wheel. I introduced myself, and told him that I wanted to study ceramics. He did not stop working but talked to me in his open friendly manner. Although I didn’t have much experience he had confidence in me and asked if I would like to be his lab assistant. I was so excited with the opportunity that I could not wait to get started. After moving to Portland and started working in the department, Ray was consistently generous with his time and soon I was mixing clay and glazes, loading kilns and most exciting, firing the large gas kiln.

The ceramics studio was the center of learning and social activity for the art department and Ray, had a child-like interest and excitement about anything that we were doing. I cannot think of a moment in all the years that I have known Ray, even after he was having significant health problems, that he was not in a cheerful mood, quick to laugh. He was clearly happy in his work and with his family whom he mentioned often.

I did not realize the significance of it at the time, but he exposed his students to many giants of the ceramics arts. Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, Toshiko Takaezu, Howard Kotler, Eric Gronberg, Micheal Cardew, Daniel Rhodes, Bernard Leach and Soji Homada to name a few. To understand the significance, some of these artists are to contemporary ceramics what Picasso and Cezanne are to painting. Later when he set up a glass studio he brought in Marvin Lipofsky.

Ray taught that ceramics was less an art form than a life style of which he was a wonderful model. He was fun loving, ever helpful, willing to experiment and always enjoyed a lively conversation around a table with good food and a glass of wine. He would lead raku workshops on Sauves Island that were a combination of party and all night fire ritual that would culminate in a flurry of creative energy with beautiful pots as a result.

Ray was constantly looking out for the best interest of his students and opening doors. One day he called me into his office and said there was a teaching position open at Arts & Crafts Society (now the Oregon School of Arts & Crafts). I could not believe it since I had not graduated yet. He encouraged me and with his help I applied and got the job, I worked there for a number of years then left the area to live in California.

My wife Maureen and I reconnected with Ray and Jere after we moved back to Oregon about 6 years ago. We enjoyed meals together and just good times. I was aware of his fragile condition so the news of his passing was not unexpected, but at the same time I was shocked. When I think of Ray I see him as he was when I was his student, vital, lively, impish, funny and always happy. Though his body was failing those qualities were present the last time we were with Ray and Jere. We were sitting around the table, with a glass of wine, marveling at the quirky and very creative cups his granddaughter, Autumn (a MFA student in ceramics at LSU) made. He really had not changed much, very vital and happy; though still the teacher, commenting that he thought she needs to work on her handles.

The people who make a real impact on our lives are few but very special. Ray was one of those people in my life and I am constantly grateful. Thank you for being the person your where in so many people’s life…………Jerry Parks


  1. Jerry, it was fun meeting you this summer for Antiques Road show! Thank you for putting in print the early years you had with Dad, as I had not remembered that from our conversations! I Look forward to seeing you at the memorial this weekend!
    In love of art, 5th child of Ray, sarah