Artist's WPA-Era Teapot Likely Made in Professor John Magnani's Studio

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

THE TIMES-PICAYUNE (NEW ORLEANS) -- With a body like a polished stone and a handle reminiscent of Indigenous Mexican animal figures, this 1941 teapot in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s collection seems to be of both nature and man, both ancient and modern.

The bottom of this sleek teapot carries the signature of artist Sargent Claude Johnson (American, 1888 – 1967), a Black artist known for incorporating the cultures of Mexico, Latin America and West Africa into his enthusiastic embrace of Modernist abstraction.

In 1941 Johnson rented an apartment behind the ceramic studio of his friend, John Magnani, an instructor at San Francisco State charged with the city’s Works Progress Administration Crafts Project. Likely this teapot, an identical one in the collection of the Oakland Museum of California, and some related teacups were made by Sargent Johnson there in Magnani’s ceramics facility.