Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum honors Don Reitz’s ceramic legacy


Emily Mata

“Spontaneous Response: The Innovative Ceramics of Don Reitz” will be on display at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum until Nov. 9.

Alexa Highsmith, Staff Writer

The current exhibition at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum, entitled “Spontaneous Response: The Innovative Ceramics of Don Reitz” honors the long-lasting legacy of the revolutionary artist through collected salt-firings, wood-firings, and various stoneware. While one may need a background in ceramic art in order to fully understand it, the same cannot be said for encountering overwhelming emotions that come from simply experiencing the art. 

Reitz’s early work began as primarily artistic functional household items, such as the “Lidded Casserole” and “Bowl Set for Mom” as showcased in the exhibition, encapsulating the beauty hidden within the everyday. As he developed his skill, Reitz expanded on this phenomenon, building on the functionality of his ceramics and extending its reach towards the modern and innovative. As he developed his own stylistic preferences, his art took on more interpretive qualities. 

Reitz’s exploration of salt-firing in the ceramic community is considered revolutionary, as the technique was used before only in practical and non-artistic endeavors. Because of this, the salt-firing was an artistic risk, which brought his work to the spotlight and led him to being featured as one of the 13 most influential ceramic artists listed in the magazine Ceramics Monthly. This listing was a huge honor to Reitz and his work, as it is an even greater honor to showcase his collection in the Ridley-Tree Museum. 

The evolution and integration of color throughout the collected stoneware can be traced through the different phases of Reitz’s life, spanning across his early works, in which he was more inclined towards bright colors in functional firings, through the “natural narrative” (as described by Chris Rupp, Collections Manager and Curator, and Tamara Vaughan, Event and Outreach Coordinator) of his wood firings, and through seasons of trial, creating the Sara Series in which color re-entered his creations. 

The magnitude of Reitz’s impact in the ceramic world is nothing less than immense, as he played an imperative role in the advancement and imaginative landscape of functional and artistic ceramics. He was well-loved within his communities, both local and familial, and remains a highly respected modern artist. His legacy continues to live on through the preservation of his work by private collectors and by the generosity of his children, who have enabled the museum to showcase many of his works which would otherwise not be available to the public. 

The exhibition at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum opened in August and continues through November 9. While the exhibition remains open, the museum offers a free ceramic workshop on Sept. 18, in which students are invited to participate in creating ceramic tiles. Additionally, the museum has made copies available for purchase of the recently published collection guide, which serves as an exemplary source in navigating the trajectory of Reitz’s artistic journey and the ceramic art he produced. 

Collections Manager and Curator Chris Rupp and Event and Outreach Coordinator Tamara Vaughan highly encourage students and artists alike to visit the museum, whether they have extensive ceramic background or none at all. The beauty of Don Reitz’s collection fails no viewer, no matter the level of understanding of the process behind the work. 

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