Charles Fergus Binns 1857–1934
Born and educated in England, Charles Fergus Binns was already an accomplished ceramist and instructor when he moved to America at the age of 40 in 1897. Well-known within the American ceramics industry thanks to his writings for The Ceramic Monthly, he gave lectures in New York and Cincinnati that same year, published his book The Story of the Potter in 1898, and helped to establish the American Ceramic Society in 1899. But Binns’ career and legacy would be shaped primarily by his appointment as director of the New York State School of Clay-Working and Ceramics (now the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University), which was founded in 1900 in upstate New York. He remained in the position until 1931, teaching a multitude of students, many of whom would go on to become some of the country’s leading ceramists, including Adelaide Robineau, Frederick Walrath, Mary Chase Perry, Arthur Baggs, Elizabeth Overbeck, and Maija Grotell.
Binns’ own work was heavily inspired by Asian aesthetics and is characterized by simple, balanced forms with restrained, mostly matte glazes. He preferred throwing his vases in sections to allow him absolute and exacting control over the final shape, and because, he claimed, it was standard practice for Chinese potters. His 1910 book The Potter’s Craft was the first American instructional manual for pottery making, and he wrote countless articles for Adelaide Robineau’s Keramic Studio, Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman, and other trade publications.
Binns left an indelible mark on the history of the medium through his writings, teachings, and success of his students. It is only fitting that he is referred to as “the father of American studio ceramics”.