J.B. Blunk: California Master Craftsman
His may not be a household name, but that was never his goal. J.B. Blunk, a mid-twentieth-century artist who was deeply inspired by the northern California landscape, never sought to leave a commercial footprint. Instead, he was a true independent, preferring to create exquisitely crafted works out of his hand-built Inverness home.
“Blunk was an inspirational artist who forged his own pathway and remained committed to building his life and practice in concert with the land,” says Carin Adams, curator of art, who organized the exhibition J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life. “He did not separate art from life, which is a principle that the Museum also celebrates.”
Blunk, who was born in 1926 (and passed away in 2002), studied ceramics at both UCLA and in Japan before settling in Marin County in the 1960s. There he met British artist Gordon Onslow Ford, who offered Blunk a one-acre piece of property on which Blunk built his own home, meticulously crafted, carved, and chiseled out of local materials.
His body of work—which includes ceramics, furniture, jewelry, and sculpture—reflects his interest in the intersection of form and function. Blunk’s best-known work remains The Planet, a sculpture commissioned by the Museum in 1969 and still a powerful presence outside the Gallery of California Natural Sciences. “My father wanted The Planet to be more than just a seating installation,” says Mariah Nielson, Blunk’s daughter and the director of his collection and home. “Because it vacillates between art and design, decorative and functional, The Planet challenges visitors’ expectation about what furniture should and can be.”
The exhibition invites visitors to consider how Blunk’s intertwined approach to art, nature, and life is especially pertinent today. “The fact that my father worked across many disciplines and built our home and studio by hand with very few resources demonstrates an independent attitude and authentic aesthetic that resonates with a current zeitgeist,” says Nielson. “The Planet has become an iconic piece for the Museum, which makes an exhibition of my father’s work even more relevant.”
Photography: Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California (Exterior view of J.B. Blunk’s home in Inverness, California).
J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board and members of the Donor Forum.