Barbara Willis Abbott

Barbara Willis Abbott June 29, 1917 ~ Sept. 3, 2011 Resident of San Ramon A long time resident of Malibu, Barbara Lucille Willis Abbott, famous California Art Ceramicist and Businesswoman, passed peacefully September 3, 2011, at her home in San Ramon, California. Her daughter, Liz Graham, of San Ramon, California, was at her side. Barbara moved to Malibu in 1951 and resided there until 2010, at the age of 92, when she relocated to San Ramon to be near her daughter, Liz. Earning a Bachelor of Education, with a Special Secondary in Art from UCLA in 1940, Barbara began a partnership with a woman named Jean Rose and opened the Barbara Jean Pottery Studio in Los Angeles. Then, in 1943, with support from her father, Barbara began her own solo pottery line. As her business grew, she eventually was able to purchase a larger commercial property in North Hollywood, where she had a production line of 15 employees. As told by Bill Stern, Executive Director of the Museum of California Design: "Barbara Willis' clean-lined ceramic designs with intensely colored glazes were early contributors to what we now call Mid-Century Modern design. Examples of her popular, commercially-produced work was exhibited in CALIFORNIA POTTERY: FROM MISSIONS TO MODERNISM at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2001 and at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles in 2003 and will be included in LACMA's CALIFORNIA DESIGN 1930-1965: LIVING IN A MODERN WAY and the Museum of California Design's exhibition CALIFORNIA'S DESIGNING WOMEN: 1896-1986 at the Museum of the American West in Los Angeles." With the flood of imported pottery in the mid-1950s, the competition for California potteries became too great and Barbara had no choice but to close her pottery production in 1958. In the beginning of 1959, Barbara began another business, importing colorful plastic artificial flowers she co-designed with a company in Hong Kong. In 1970, upon ceasing direct importing, she opened a retail shop with the stored inventory of artificial flowers and added needlecraft in Granada Hills, CA. With her property investing business becoming successful, Barbara retired the retail business in 1973. She then embarked on many travels around the world. Then, in 1995, she chanced upon a piece of her vintage pottery at a local flea market. Giving her telephone number to the seller, she later was contacted by collectors of her vintage ware. Unbeknown to Barbara, her vintage pottery had been a sought after collectable for many years. Discovering that Barbara was still living in Southern California, collectors came forward, exhibiting to Barbara their collections of her work and longing for her to create more. Therefore, in 1996, she launched a modern line, hand pressed pottery from her studio in Malibu. She was adored by many collectors and a book about her pottery career was written by Jack Chipman, known for collector books on Bauer and other highly collected pottery. She continued making the modern line until 2009 when she could no longer lift the heavy pieces of rich clay which was her new signature. A Celebration of Life memorial service will be held in her memory in Malibu in October. Donations in her memory may be made to UCLA art student grants or shelters for woman and children.

Published in Contra Costa Times on Sept. 11, 2011