Over forty years ago, Biz Littell was expected to follow his father’s path. His father, a prominent Denver attorney, expected his son to join him in his law firm. However, an an undergraduate at the University of Northern Colorado, Biz ultimately changed majors from pre-law to Art Education and Social Studies. Much to his father’s Chagrin, and under the guidance of Herb Schumacher, chairman of the ceramics department, Biz underwent major metamorphosis on the day he tried clay and became hooked. True to himself, he never looked back.
It was the time of the Viet Nam war, and many young people like Biz found themselves a testament to the pervading consciousness of the time, rejecting materialism, expectations of society, and their own fathers’ concepts of “success,” all the while searching for something “more meaningful to the individual.
However, it was a new world to Biz. He received his MA from UNC, but not knowing much about art, art departments, or art schools, Biz asked Herb Schumacher for his advice about pursuing graduate school in ceramics. The university’s ceramic department’s text at the time was Daniel Rhodes’ book Clay and Glazes for the Potter. Biz saw that it mentioned Alfred University on the back cover. He asked Herb, “what about here?” Herb concurred Alfred would be a most excellent choice. And so Biz applied for the MFA ceramics program at Alfred.
He entered Alfred in 1969, Daniel Rhodes was assigned as his adviser, and the rest is history. Biz found that the study of ceramics and glass suited his ever changing inquisitive approach to life and his art. And so he became part of an Alfred era that spawned many of the fine contemporary and well known ceramic artists and icons of today.
Enjoying the function and form approach that was the trademark and tradition of Alfred University under the tutelage of Ted Randall, Dan Rhodes, Val Cushing, and Robert Turner, Biz took advantage of all that the school had to offer and immersed himself into his education, learning all he could about clay, glazes, glass, and kilns. He doted on the technical as well as the studio art, and very early on, as a graduate student, he developed his own clay bodies, and glazes for all types of firings. He also fell in love with glass and creating stylized pieces of art from the molten medium that he could form in front of his eyes. He worked on various glass formulae and created new photo sensitive glass with which to work. Some of his early glass work is in the permanent collection of the Corning Museum.
It was this love of glass and its specified techniques and subsequent firing skills that precursored the first vapor glaze firing that captured the dazzling effects of the phenomenon known as Newton’s rings, which in nature creates the beautiful arch and colors we treasure in rainbows. Biz transferred his glass experimentation to clay and added precious metals, all the time refining techniques with consideration to time and temperature and Kosai ware was born.
In 1971, Biz received and MFA in Ceramics and Glass and began his long and successful teaching career, teaching at Alfred U. and then Rhode Island School of Design which he left in order to build and develop the entire glass facility for the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit. Family demands ultimately led him to the University of Southern Illinois, then to Texas A & M and then back to Colorado where he has taught for over 30 years even while he was a studio artist. He has presented well over a 100 workshops and was the co-founder and director of the Opus Symposium Series of workshops which combined Tai Chi and the metaphysical arts with the creative process and aspects of clay. When Laloba Ranch Art Center was formed, Biz joined Judith Carol Day, who was soon to be his wife, in the venture and taught the Master’s Class series and headed the faculty .
On his own work:
” My work in clay for the past 40 years is an accumulation of unique and experiential knowledge gathered from my expertise in the technical and design aspects of being a glass as well as ceramic artist. It is the combination of the knowledge of these two mediums that I attribute my personal sensitivity to form. Although I often use the “vessel” as a means of expression, I consider my work to be sculptural rather than functional in concept.
Glaze and surface treatment of these forms are created from multiple firings to create the desired iridescence by my vapor glazing process. My art work is a reflection of the technical world in which we live. Beneath the surface of the reflections and colors of our of our daily life, is the familiar form in which we find the comfort and simplicity of life.”
“I look back, and I can see the profound influence that specific people had had in my educational process. When I view my work, it is apparent to me that I was a student of Val Cushing, that in my own way I reflect the ceramic tradition of Val Cushing, Dan Rhodes, Ted Randall, and Robert Turner. They continue to influence my own history which in turn, as is with all of us, is a reflection of all who have come before. If you know the teacher, you will recognize the student. This is one of the joys of being a teacher, being part of the continuum in ceramic history and acknowledging our teachers and those who have helped make our lives as artists possible perhaps without even knowing it. Those unique individuals like Regina Brown who while department executive secretary at Alfred, made it possible for us to study, learn, and keep ourselves together in the process. Regina was a great source of encouragement, but also kept us all “in line.” No one at Alfred could have gotten through without her.”
Although it seems that there is not much in ceramics that Biz has not tried, it is amazing that he continues to find more and more new and unique expressions within the field. He finds a joy in the conversation with clay and new techniques that he finds in a constant flowing river of knowledge and creativity. He is a true creative mind and spirit that breathes eternal life into his art work and into his gift for teaching.
*written by Judith Carol Day, Laloba Ranch