Integral to the development of ceramic production here in the region, and to the founding of the Ceramics Museum Westerwald in Höhr-Grenzhausen, is the actuality that just outside of town you will find purest, richest, and largest clay quarries in Europe. From the very beginnings of ceramic production, a culture of craftsmanship and artistic expression developed here, that is now famous far beyond the boundaries of the region.
Already in the time of the Urn culture around 1000 BC, there is evidence of ceramic production in the area of Westerwald. Works recovered from the middle ages reveal a kind of early stoneware.
Around the middle of the 14th century the production of high temperature ware was enabled through advancements a kiln design. For the first time, firing temperatures could reach up to 1250°C. Although we cannot pinpoint its origins precisely, the saltglazing process is first recorded around the middle of the 15th century. Table salt is thrown into the kiln at high temperatures whereupon it vaporizes and bonds with the quartz contained in the clay body resulting in the typical shiny gray Westerwald salt glaze. Around 1600 many potters emigrated to Westerwald from Siegburg, Raeren, and Lothringen bringing with them new tendencies in both art and craft.
1950 thru 1980
The post war years and the following decade did not show much promise. The ceramics of the fifties was unresolved, not clearly borrowing from Art Deco or even from Bauhaus tradition, but if failed to embrace the intuitive painting techniques of e.g. Paul Drosse´. The area of the “kidney shaped coffee table” and its search for appropriate from and color produced many extremities.
Nevertheless, other influences from Asia and particularly Japan originating around the turn of the century led to a more formal direction in the 1960/70s. The works of Walter Popp from Kassel set a new standard and created a new code of aesthetics which included: artistic expression, clear structural forms, daring assemblage, clear colors, and simple glazes ground from natural minerals, often overlapped and reduction fired to high temperatures. Ceramic Art was redefined. Wendelin Stahl, Gisela Schmidt-Reuther, Görge Hohlt, then later the Group ´83, personalities such as Walburga Külz and many others helped shape the movement.
Support increased for art education and the creation of institutes of study. The sale of ceramics went well, whether in exhibitions of craft shows. Till the beginning of the ´90s, artists and craftsmen were well established in the marketplace, and apprenticeships and enrolments in ceramic programs were highly prized and socially accepted career options.
The raw materials for technical ceramics are not derived from natural clay but rather synthetically created, absolutely pure materials such as titanium, zirconium, or aluminium oxide. These materials mostly in powder form are shaped under extreme pressure and fired to very high temperatures. This results in a density that allows for precise applications.
In the museum are examples of medical implants such as artificial hips, automobile parts, as well as ceramic cutting tools- little things that make our everyday lives easier and many cases safer.
Since the founding of the museum in 1976 the collection of contemporary ceramics has grown steadily. Targeted acquisition now enable us to present a representative overview of the artistic tendencies of the last century.
In the last thirty years there have been major changes in the production of ceramics. Technical advancements eased the path of experimentation, while influences from Modern Art have inspired many ceramic artists. This has had a profound impact on the mission of the museum and brought new dimensions. In addition to the ongoing displays of the historical techniques, artistic developments, and the surrounding social context, the Ceramics Museum of the Westerwald has placed a new emphasis on the modern.
This is evident through the opening of both the Westerwald and other prizes to international participation, and the many special exhibitions that are organized each year. The documentation and discussion of new tendencies and developments in the realm of artistic ceramics has become the major function of the Ceramics Museum Westerwald.