Born in 1952 in Chicago, Illinois, Chris Gustin grew up in Los Angeles, California, where he was surrounded by ceramics from an early age. His family were part owners of several commercial whiteware ceramic manufacturing companies. Spending his childhood around ceramic factories, it was an obvious choice for him to go into the family business.
After taking a pottery class at a local clay studio in Venice Beach while in high school, Gustin went to the University of California, Irvine in 1970, where he studied biology and sociology. Because of his interest in clay, he also took an introductory studio ceramic course with John Mason. After a semester of college, Gustin took a summer job at one of his father's factories, located in Pasadena, California. He decided that he wanted to continue working in the family business, so in the fall of 1970, when Gustin was 18 years old, he quit school and became the factory foreman and manager at Wildwood Ceramics, which he ran until 1972. Two years of running a small commercial ceramics factory was an apprenticeship that has since proved invaluable in his career.
During Gustin's time at Wildwood, he was still making wheel thrown pottery. Having decided that the studio side of ceramics was of greater interest to him, he left the factory in 1972 to attend the Kansas City Art Institute, from which he received my BFA in ceramics in 1975. He then went on to graduate school at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, where he received his MFA in 1977.
Gustin established his first clay studio in 1977 in Guilford, Connecticut, with his sister-in-law Jane Gustin. They both shared the studio together for five years, where they each produced functional and sculptural pottery. During this time, Chris Gustin was invited to teach at Parson's School of Design in New York, where he was an instructor in the Crafts Department from 1978 to 1980. In 1980, he began teaching at the Program in Artisanry at Boston University, where he was Assistant Professor of Ceramics. In 1985, the Program in Artisanry moved to the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he became Associate Professor of Ceramics and head of the ceramics program. Swain School subsequently merged in 1988 with Southeastern Massachusetts University, now the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
It was during his tenure at Boston University, in 1982, that Gustin moved his studio from Connecticut to South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where he purchased and renovated an 8000 square foot building that was an old chicken farm. This building became both his studio and his living space.
In 1986, Gustin became involved with a small group of artists interested in saving and preserving an old brick factory in southeast Maine. With Peg Griggs' generous donation of the property, she, George Mason, Lynn Duryea and Chris Gustin founded the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, in Newcastle, Maine. Watershed is now thriving, offering summer and winter residencies to artists from around the world.
Gustin was Associate Professor of Ceramics and the senior faculty of the ceramics program during his ten year tenure at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. After twenty years of teaching and working with hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students, he retired from academia in the summer of 1999 to devote his full time and energies to his studio work and tile production company.
“I am interested in pottery that make connections to the human figure. The figurative analogies used to describe pots throughout history all in some way invite touch. The pots that I respond to all speak of a clear, direct sense of the hand. The hand is celebrated in the work by its maker, whether it is that of a fifteenth century rural potter or a nineteenth century court artisan. And it becomes a necessary tool for the user in understanding the relationship of the object to its function, and subsequently, to how that object informs ones life.
Though most of my work only alludes to function, I use the pot context because of its immense possibilities for abstraction. The skin of the clay holds the invisible interior of the vessel. How I manipulate my forms "around" that air, constraining it, enclosing it, or letting it expand and swell, can allow analogy and metaphor to enter into the work.
I want my work to provoke image to the viewer, to suggest something that is just on the other side of consciousness. I don't want my pots to conjure up a singular recollection, but ones that change with each glance, with each change of light. I use surfaces that purposely encourage touch, and by inviting the hand to explore the forms as well as the eye, I hope to provoke numerous memories, recollections that have the potential to change from moment to moment.”