John Fassbinder: noted potter, loving father, grandfather

Noted potter, loving father and grandfather

 John Fassbinder, a Claremont resident and noted ceramic artist, died on Sunday, October 19, 2014. He was 83.

 Mr. Fassbinder was born on August 6, 1931 in Washington State to Mark and Martha Fassbinder. He earned his bachelor’s degree in art at the University of Washington in Seattle where he studied with Robert Sperry and Paul Bonifas, pioneers in the American Studio Craft movement.

 During the Korean War, he served as an electrical technician, stationed in Germany. In 1958, he married Gretchen Day, who he met while attending UW. The couple would welcome two children, Sam and Molly, in the coming years.

Mr. Fassbinder earned his MFA in ceramics at Claremont Graduate School in 1960. He taught at Central Washington College and then, in 1963, was hired as an art instructor at Chouinard Art School. There, he taught ceramics, drawing and painting and served as assistant chairman of the ceramics department.

Next, Mr. Fassbinder was hired at Pomona College where he taught for 11 years. His courses included ceramics and drawing and, later, the college’s first computer graphics classes. He also taught at Scripps College and was a part-time faculty member at Citrus Community College for several years.

Mr. Fassbinder was also a working artist. Known for his beautiful and original ceramics, he rented a studio on Baseline Road in Claremont. Working with traditional materials and techniques, he fashioned works of art that were elegantly distinctive and utilitarian. He found inspiration in nature.  

He turned out a never-ending array of housewares like vases, jugs, goblets, plates and pitchers, all imprinted with his signature. He favored vivid glazes and decorations both abstract and figurative. A prime example of his work—a stoneware platter emblazoned with a fiery iron-oxide sun rising over a cobalt-glazed ocean—is represented in the permanent collection of the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona. 

Mr. Fassbinder’s works were carried by the Claremont gift shop Raku, which under the original ownership of Mt. SAC ceramics teacher Jerry Martin was a rich source of local ceramics. His wife Gretchen, who herself made beautiful cloisonné jewelry, was also featured at Raku.  

 “He was very supportive of other artists,” Mrs. Fassbinder said.

Mr. Fassbinder’s renown was not confined to Claremont. His numerous exhibits won awards throughout the United States and his work was often highlighted in the magazine Ceramics Monthly. His work has appeared in private galleries and major museums, including New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the Museum of Contemporary Crafts), The Seattle Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Pasadena Art Museum. Locally, he exhibited at the galleries of Scripps and Pomona Colleges along with ceramic artists like Aldo Casanova, Paul Darrow and Paul Soldner. His work is in the collection of the Claremont Museum of Art as well as at AMOCA.

 Outside of the studio, Mr. Fassbinder lent his support to numerous causes, including Casa Colina and the Claremont Educational Foundation, and was on the acquisition committee for the American Museum of Ceramic Art. He liked opera and classical music, mysteries and World War II novels and cooking, especially Mexican and Italian food.  Mr. Fassbinder  adored spending time with his granddaughters, taking them swimming and on excursions to the library.

He was described by his friends and family as a gentle soul, who was kind, intelligent and very talented.    

 Mr. Fassbinder is survived by his wife of 56 years, Gretchen Fassbinder, by his son Sam Fassbinder, by his daughter Molly Cox and by his granddaughters Hannah, Michelle and Lucy Cox.

 An informal remembrance will be held Sunday, November 9 at 11 a.m. at the Ginger Elliot Art Gallery at the Garner House in Memorial Park.

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