Clay Edgar Spohn Biography

Clay Edgar Spohn




Clay Edgar Spohn, painter, printmaker, muralist, sculptor, designer, and teacher, was born to Lena and John Henry Spohn in San Francisco, California on 24 November 1898. He attended the California School of Arts and Crafts in 1912 and the University of California Berkeley between 1919 and 1921, where he studied with Perham Nahl.

Spohn continued his studies for one year at the California School of Fine Arts before moving to New York. He attended the Art Students’ League where he studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller, Boardman Robinson, George Luks and Guy DuBois between 1922 and 1925. It was at the Art Students’ League where he met and befriended fellow artist Alexander Calder.

Between the years 1926 and 1927, Spohn studied at the Académie Moderne, a free school in Paris run by French artists Fernand Léger and Orthon Frieze. While Spohn was in Paris, Calder worked in a nearby studio. It has been suggested that Spohn encouraged Calder to add movement to his sculpture.

In 1927, Spohn returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and immediately became involved in the local art scene. Between 1935 and 1942, he was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Under the WPA he created copper bas relief murals and egg tempera murals, paintings, and lithographs.

Spohn was hired in 1945 by the California School of Fine Arts where he taught until 1950. He was an exponent of modern art and experimented with Surrealism, Dadaism, and Abstract Expressionism. During a December 1949 costume party entitled “The Unknown” at the California School of Fine Arts, Spohn assembled an installation of found objects and ephemera that he called his Museum of Unknown and Little-Known Objects. This exhibition of bizarre assemblages is credited with launching California’s Dada/funk/raw assemblage sculpture movement in the Bay Area.

In 1952, Spohn moved to Taos, New Mexico and remained there until 1958. He moved to New York and taught at the New York School of Visual Arts between 1964 and 1969.

Spohn was a member of and exhibited with the San Francisco and the Taos Art Associations. His work was included in the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and a solo exhibition of his work was mounted at the Oakland Museum in 1974. His work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Clay Edgar Spohn remained in New York until his death on December 19, 1977.

“Although little has been written about him, Spohn was among the most influential artists of his generation,” Susan Landauer, Art Historian.