San Diego ceramist (and medical illustrator) Rhoda LeBlanc Lopez died on New Year’s Day 1993 at age 79 after a long, fruitful career.
Already a prominent Ann Arbor, Michigan potter, who studied under Maija Grotell at Cranbrook (1948-49)7. Mrs. Lopez began exhibiting her work in regional and national shows as early as 1949. She established the ceramic department at the Summer School in Saugatuck, Michigan in 1949, and from 1951 until 1959 was an instructor at the Ann Arbor Potters Guild in Ann Arbor, Michigan (6).
Lopez worked with her husband Carlos, both in researching and executing mural projects. In Birmingham, she sketched city residents whose portraits would be inserted into the post office mural. She also worked with her husband in ceramics, creating plates, pots, and bowls that her husband decorated with kings, archers, and animals such as kangaroos, fish skeletons, and 3-headed birds. Each year, between 1948 and 1952, they entered competitions as a team, Lopez and Lopez, in Michigan Arts and Crafts exhibitions in Detroit, winning praise and awards for their collaborations. She also exhibited independently in the Regional Exhibition for Designers and Craftsmen U.S.A. (1953) and in the annual Michigan Arts and Crafts exhibitions between 1953-57.
Born in Cuba, Carlos Lopez came to the U.S. in 1919, where he spent a year studying in Chicago before coming to Detroit for three years of study at the Detroit Art Academy. During the Depression he painted murals for post offices in Paw Paw, Plymouth, and Birmingham as well as scenes of industry and war for other government agencies. He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1945, and taught during the summers at Oxbow Summer School of Art. Carlos Lopez lived in South America, Cuba and Spain. He learned how to paint in Detroit.(4) After two years of illness Carlos Lopez died on January 6, 1953, at the age of 44, in Ann Arbor from a pulmonary embolism. Mr. Lopez was a respected artist and art teacher who made a valuable contribution to the development of art in Michigan. (2)
After the loss of her husband (in 1953), Cuban-American painter and muralist, Carlos Lopez, Rhoda Lopez moved to San Diego in 1959. She joined the faculty of the La Jolla School of Arts, at the Art Center in La Jolla, when that short-lived institution was at its peak and taught alongside significant area artists like Fred Holle, Guy Williams, Beatrice Levy, Kay Whitcomb and Mac McClain. As Ceramist in Residence, her work was exhibited at the Art Center in both a one-man show and annual faculty exhibitions. Her teaching style, refined, and with extensive academic background, contrasted sharply with Mac McClain’s, who had taught the pottery classes until her arrival and then taught sculpture. McClain had been in the first class taught by Peter Voulkos at the Otis Art Institute, and represented a non-dogmatic instructional method as well as the early adaptation of Abstract Expressionism to ceramic art.(7)
After the closing of the Art Center School in 1964, Lopez was the only instructor to transition into teaching extension classes for the University of California, San Diego, which were held in the same studio/classrooms at the now re-named La Jolla Museum of Art. While these classes were crucial to Lopez's career, she also taught at her home-studio in Pacific Beach (7). In 1969 she openedthe Clay Dimensions studio, on Adams Avenue, to accommodate both the extension students as well as local potters. Clay Dimensions held bi-annual sales of students’ and associates’ work.(5)
While she continued to exhibit in major national competitions and invitationals like those held at the Wichita Art Association, the Everson Museum, Scripps College and the California Design series at the Pasadena Museum of Art, in San Diego Rhoda Lopez showed with the Allied Craftsmen. As a juried member of this local group, Lopez had regular opportunities to showcase her creative output at the Fine Arts Gallery during the Allied Craftsmen’s annual Spring Exhibition. Although she never abandoned more traditional potter’s wares, the work she exhibited began to demonstrate a new emphasis on panels of textured bricks and sculptural tiles for architectural installation. From 1963-64, when examples of these larger but relatively simple, grid-based projects were first published, to 1968, Lopez would dramatically refine this concept, ultimately producing massive and complex fountain walls of sculptural stoneware with organic, plant and insect-inspired motifs. Fountain walls exhibited in the late 1960s and early 1970s were given titles like “Vandalized Nature” and “Survival of the Root.” She worked intimately with some of San Diego’s most progressive architects and was commissioned for projects in private residences and public buildings.
Her children Jon and Carol learned to paint before they could walk and pursued careers in art and education as well. Rhoda and Carlos’ son, Jon, born in Detroit (1940), received his art education at Antioch College, the University of Michigan, and UCLA. Jon studied in Europe before settling in California. His work has been exhibited in numerous juried shows, and in one-man shows in California, Italy, and Spain. When he returned to Ann Arbor in 1960, his paintings were well-honed and representational in a style very much akin to his father's post-World War II period. Jon later left Ann Arbor to pursue a career in art and art education (2)
Partial List of Works:
Saints Lutheran Church
First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego
Best Western Motel Old Town
M. Fine MD Medical Center
M. Fine MD Residence
and Baran Offices (ca. 1968)
Diego Juvenile Hall
Souls Episcopal Church