More art than craft

William Daley: 14 for 7

2 minute read
“Magister Inn” by William Daley. 1993, unglazed stoneware; collection of Liam Daley.
“Magister Inn” by William Daley. 1993, unglazed stoneware; collection of Liam Daley.

The Art Alliance’s exhibition of 14 unglazed stoneware vessels created over the past seven decades by our area’s foremost potter, the internationally renowned William Daley, reveals the unlimited potential of this medium in the hands of a true artist. These are not pretty bowls for libations or even baptisms, although they could serve those purposes; they are pieces of sculpture that could be studies of primary forms. Mr. Daley might refer to himself as a “mud man,” but he is a sculptor with the three-dimensional vision of an architect. His work is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Daley abandoned the potter’s wheel early in his career. Based on his superb drawings, which indicate proportions from various viewpoints, he cuts, manipulates, and joins the material into geometric forms. He fuses these by hand to the initial element, building a columnar or horizontal form with strong angles that unite curvilinear slabs of unglazed stoneware. Each piece merits careful contemplation. Note the interiors: see how the curves meld into sharp angles punctuating the basic rhythm.

Supplementing the 14 sculptures are his masterful drawings on the walls of the gallery. In an adjacent, smaller gallery is a collection of his basic individual forms in hardened clay and his unique, handmade tools. There is also a short film, Mud Architect by Thomas Porett, about Daley, who narrates and demonstrates his working methods.

All these special features broaden our knowledge of a premier artist and his work, despite the overcrowding of the works of art in a relatively small space. Each piece deserves to be viewed in profile, from above, and from each angle. We should have the opportunity to contemplate each sculpture’s balance and proportion. Then we could savor the individual artistry of each one. They merit their own time in the sun.

Image at above right: “Joy-ful Libation Vesica,” by William Daley. 2010, unglazed ground stoneware; private collection.

What, When, Where

“William Daley: 14 for 7,” at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 S. 18th Street, Philadelphia, until March 9, 2014. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday noon to 5pm. 215-545-4302 or

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