Clay Culture: Chicago City Guide

Headed to Chicago? Be sure to check out all of the ceramic resources the Windy City has to offer—from galleries and museums to community art centers and school programs.

Chicago, Illinois, is a remarkable and diverse cultural epicenter. Walking through downtown Chicago, one is immersed in world-renowned architecture and first-class cultural institutions, such as the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park, which houses the famous Cloud Gate (lovingly nicknamed The Bean) by Anish Kapoor, Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, and the Jay Pritzker Music Pavilion designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry. These are just a few of the many features that form the artistic background that makes Chicago such a great home (or place to visit) for artists working in any media.

Chicago has had pivotal institutions support ceramic artists for decades, such as Ann Nathan Gallery and Perimeter Gallery (both are now permanently closed), as well as Lillstreet Gallery and Circle Line Gallery at the Chicago Ceramic Center; however, today, Chicago’s ceramic artists are widely dispersed and intertwined within the fabric of mainstream contemporary art.

A ceramics enthusiast can enjoy clay in a multitude of ways in Chicago. Whether experiencing historical ceramics from China at the Field Museum, or taking a mug-making workshop at Penguin Foot while enjoying a bottle of wine, Chicagoans and visitors alike have access to a rich ceramics culture that expands across the city.

Galleries and Museums

1 Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60603
The Art Institute’s collection includes Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ceramics from historical to contemporary samples as well as over 500 pieces of African art, including ceramics from the 11th to the 20th centuries. Their extensive collections of ceramics from the Americas dating from 4000 BCE through the 20th century comprise objects from North America, Mesoamerica, lower Central America, and the Andes—including late Classic Maya ceramics, West Coast Mexico’s clay sculptures depicting individuals and rituals, Moche and Nazca ceramic vessels, and portrait heads.

2 Field Museum
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60605
The Field Museum boasts several collections of historical ceramics from around the world, including archaeological ceramics from the southern Andes as well as ceramics that illustrate the history of China.

3 Museum of Contemporary Art
220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) has hosted solo exhibitions by artists using clay as their main media, including William O’Brien in 2014 and Caleb J. Lyons in 2010. The MCA has ceramic objects in their permanent collection by Karen Bresci, Ruth Duckworth, Marilyn Levine, Sterling Ruby, and Peter Voulkos.

1 Exterior view of the Art Institute of Chicago.

2 The Chicago Ceramic Center. Photo: Jay Strommen.

4 Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL 60602
The Chicago Cultural Center presents exhibitions of fine art in all media, encompassing historic as well as contemporary art. They focus on emerging and underrepresented artists, particularly those who live and work in the Chicago area. Admission is free and open to the public.

5 National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W. 19th St., Chicago, IL 60608
The National Museum of Mexican Art is located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, which is the center of the city’s Mexican-American community, and holds 10,000 pieces in its permanent collection. Their arte popular (folk art) collection contains over 1700 objects from many states in Mexico. The collection includes Día de los Muertos pieces; masks; and figurines; as well as functional and decorative objects made of low-fire ceramics, papier-mâché, wood, and other materials. Admission is free and open to the public.

6 Vale Craft Gallery
230 W. Superior St., Chicago, IL 60654
Vale Craft Gallery, located in Chicago’s River North Gallery District, exhibits and sells contemporary American fine craft and sculpture including works in clay, fiber, metal, glass, wood, and mixed media.

3 Outside view of Lillstreet Art Center.

4 Lillstreet Shop and Gallery display wall featuring work by Lillstreet students, teachers, studio members, and represented artists. Photos: Courtesy of Lillstreet Art Center, Chicago.

7 Lillstreet Gallery and Shop
4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640
Lillstreet Gallery and Shop is located within Lillstreet Art Center’s 40,000-square-foot facility in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Through exhibitions and a retail shop, Lillstreet represents emerging and established artists working in ceramics, textiles, photography, painting, drawing, metalsmithing, and more.

8 Zolla/Lieberman Gallery
325 W. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60654
Started in 1976, Zolla/Lieberman Gallery is one of the most respected contemporary art galleries in Chicago, and the first gallery to open in the now established River North Gallery District.

Undergraduate and Post-Graduate Ceramics Programs

9 School of the Art Institute of Chicago
280 S. Columbus Dr., Chicago, IL 60603
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in ceramics. The department of ceramics is known for its interdisciplinary approach to ceramics. Ceramics faculty: Marie Herwald Hermann, Salvador Jiménez-Flores, William John O’Brien, Katherine L. Ross.

5 A full class of beginning/advanced beginning Lillstreet ceramics students working on the wheel. Photo: Courtesy of Lillstreet Art Center, Chicago.

10 Northeastern Illinois University
5500 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago, IL 60625
Northeastern Illinois University’s Department of Art offers bachelor’s degrees in studio art (including a ceramics concentration) and art history. A student not seeking a degree may take ceramics classes as a student-at-large. The ceramics program focuses on the development of strong craftsmanship and individual conceptual research. Ceramics faculty: Dubhe Carreño.

11 Loyola University Chicago
Ralph Arnold Fine Arts Annex
1131 W. Sheridan Rd., Chicago, IL 60660
The sculpture and ceramics program at Loyola University Chicago explores the interplay between art, craft, and design. The program is housed in the Ralph Arnold Fine Arts Annex at the Lakeshore Campus, which features recently renovated studio spaces for 3D design, sculpture, ceramics, and jewelry. Ceramics faculty: Kate Biderbost and Matthew Groves.

Community Colleges

Chicago community colleges offer two-year associate’s degrees and a platform for ceramic artists interested in having space to work and access to great ceramics facilities.

12 Harold Washington Community College
30 E. Lake St., Chicago, IL 60601
Located in Chicago’s Loop, Harold Washington College’s (HWC) 3D area of the art department offers classes in clay and sculpture. HWC offers an associate’s degree with a focus in three-dimensional object making. Ceramics faculty: Jose Avalos, Jessica Bader, Heather Coffey, and Elena Rakochy.

6 David Bolton’s Flower of Life Pitcher and Cups, to 10 in. (25 cm) in height, wood-fired porcelain, 2017.

7 Jay Strommen’s Gates, 15 ft. (5 m) in length, wood-fired ceramic and glass, 2017.

13 Oakton Community College
1600 E. Golf Rd., Des Plaines, IL 60016
Oakton Community College Art department offers an associate’s degree in fine arts. Students not seeking a degree at Oakton can take non-credited courses. The ceramic department’s lab was just renovated and includes a large workspace for students in a picturesque setting near the Des Plaines River. Ceramics faculty: Charlie Cho, Kevin Foy, William Jamieson, and Lou Pierozzi.

14 College of Lake County
19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake, IL 60030
The College of Lake County, a community college in Grayslake, Illinois, offers associate’s transfer degrees. The ceramics program focuses on a strong foundation of vessel making as it relates to functional and sculptural forms. In a welcoming and fully-equipped studio, students learn the fundamentals of forming, decorating, and glazing techniques, as well as kiln loading, glaze mixing, and wood and soda firing. Ceramics faculty: Ben Bates (full-time technician), Nolan Baumgartner, David Bolton, and Mariko Brown.

15 College of DuPage
425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
College of DuPage offers an associate’s degree in fine arts designed for students wishing to transfer into baccalaureate programs with a major in studio art, often leading to a BFA degree. College of DuPage offers a variety of ceramics courses focusing both in functional and sculptural ceramics. Ceramics faculty: Ben Buchenot, Lori Evans, Marina Kuchinski, and Kate Pszotka.

8 Inside Hyde Park Art Center. Photo: Melissa Weber.

Studio Art Spaces and Non-Degree Ceramic Programs

16 Cornelia Arts Building
1800 W. Cornelia Ave., Chicago, IL 60657
Cornelia Arts Building offers 40 studio spaces for artists working in all media, including ceramics, and holds open studios quarterly.

17 Lillstreet Art Center
(See #7)
Founded in 1975, Lillstreet offers Chicagoans a space dedicated to the arts with an emphasis on ceramics. The well-equipped facility offers classes in over 20 classrooms, as well as artists’ residencies in ceramics and other media. Lillstreet has internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students as well as studio space for rent. See website for current faculty.

18 Lincoln Square Pottery Studio-Learning Center
4150 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60618
This is a not-for-profit organization that specializes in ceramics classes for all skill levels. It offers 8-week evening classes for adults, as well as Saturday classes for kids, independent study for artists looking for a place to work, and one-day mini-sessions.

9 Steven Young Lee’s deconstructed vases with the Duane Reed Gallery at the SOFA Expo.

10 View from inside the Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Expo (SOFA).

19 Penguin Foot
2516 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60647
Penguin Foot ceramic studio is located in the Logan Square neighborhood. The studio offers 4-week ceramics courses at all levels for handbuilding and wheel throwing, along with a BYOB happy-hour workshop.

20 Zhou Brothers Art Center
1029 W. 35th St., Chicago, IL 60609
Located in the historic Bridgeport neighborhood, the Zhou Brothers Art Center provides galleries, studio spaces for 50 resident artists, and a collaborative environment to a community of artists and curators. On the third Friday of each month, the center hosts a free exhibition and open studio event.

21 Park West Ceramics
2646 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614
In Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Park West Ceramics offers wheel-throwing classes and workshops. Artists looking for a space to work can do an independent study.

11 Ahryun Lee’s Spiky I and Spiky II, porcelain, 2018. Exhibition with the J. Lohmann Gallery at the SOFA Expo.

22 The Pot Shop
1224 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL 60202
In the heart of Evanston, The Pot Shop is both a studio and a gallery and offers wheel-throwing classes for beginners and advanced skill levels. The gallery features the pottery of founder and owner Dominic Mosca, as well as other ceramic artists.

23 Chicago Ceramic Center
1200 W. 35th St., 5th Floor, Chicago, IL 60609
Located within the Bridgeport Art Center, 5 miles south of downtown Chicago, the Chicago Ceramic Center offers community pottery classes and wood-fire workshops. A sister space, Circle Line Gallery, offers ceramic exhibitions and performances, as well as  manufacturing, apprenticeships, and residency opportunities.

24 Evanston Art Center
1717 Central St., Evanston, IL 60201
The Evanston Art Center offers ceramic classes in handbuilding and wheel throwing for students of all levels. See website for current faculty.

25 Hyde Park Art Center
2050 South Cornell Ave., Chicago, IL 60615
Hyde Park Art Center on the south side is a hub for contemporary arts in Chicago, serving as a gathering and production space for artists and the broader community. The Oakman Clinton School and Studios houses Hyde Park Art Center’s studio art classes. The Art Center offers over 200 courses per year, with nearly 2000 students annually. Classes offered in the ceramics studio are 5- and 10-week terms. Approximately 12 courses are offered per term. Topics include beginning and intermediate mosaics, beginning to advanced wheel throwing and handbuilding, and portrait and figure sculpture. Classes in youth ceramics are also offered. See website for current faculty.

12 Erika Sanada’s Lisping, at the SOFA Expo, 2016.

26 The Art Center of Highland Park
1957 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park, IL 60035
The Art Center of Highland Park is located in the north suburbs of Chicago and offers ceramic classes, workshops, and exhibitions of artists working in all media. See website for current faculty.

Art Fairs and Markets

Chicago has an amazing list of art fairs year round where ceramic artists show their work side by side with painters, jewelers, sculptors, glass artists, etc.

the author Dubhe Carreño is an artist living in Chicago, Illinois, where she runs her studio This Quiet Dust and teaches ceramics at Northeastern Illinois University. To see more of her work, visit

  • Hi! Thanks for featuring Chicago and the great ceramics that are in the city! There is another clay studio in Pilsen called GnarWare that offers classes and memberships to the community, and also has a shop for local artists to sell their work. Just thought it was worth mentioning since it’s a great place. Thanks for featuring this great city and it has to offer!

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