Leah Balsham Biography

Leah Balsham



Leah Balsham, printmaker, sculptor, ceramist, and educator, was born on 28 September 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago between 1935 and 1939 before enrolling in the University of Chicago where she received her BFA in 1949 and her MFA in 1947. During her studies, she focused on ceramics and printmaking. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Balsham was employed by the WPA Federal Arts Project in the Graphics division teaching woodcut, etching, and lithography. She taught in the art department at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois between the years 1944 and 1947. She joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947 where she headed the Fiber, design, and clay department and chaired the ceramic department for many years. Balsham was appointed a full professor in 1965 and she retired in 1983.

Leah Balsham is primarily known for sculpture and individual container forms. She worked with slabs, and threw earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain on the wheel. Balsham’s firings ranged from low to high fire in oxidation and reduction kiln environments. Surface treatment included majolica (a white-based usually with brightly colored, low fire decoration), incised, wax resist, china painted, lusters, and decals. Balsham’s wood fired pots made in Japan had little or no glaze. During the summers of 1956 through 1960, she worked at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. In 1968, Balsham took a sabbatical to work in Japan at the studio of the Bizen potter Fujiwara Yu, a Japanese National Living Treasure.

Balsham's sculpture was particularly inspired by Greek mythology and vase painting, as well as Japanese ceramics, Persian miniature painting, and folk and primitive art. Some sculptures evoked plant forms while others could be taken apart, giving them an intentional game-like quality. Balsham is also known for her print making, her work as an artist for the WPA Federal Art Project, and as teacher of children at Hull House, a settlement house, in Chicago, Illinois.

She exhibited in the Annual Exhibition of Artists in Chicago and Vicinity held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938 and 1960; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago in 1955; the Artist Members Exhibit, Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago in 1962; Ceramics by Three Chicago Craftsmen: Leah Balsham, Albert Borch, William Hoffman, Art Institute of Chicago in 1965; and After the Great Crash: New Deal Art in Illinois, Illinois State Museum in 1983.

Leah Balsham’s work is represented in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas; the Krannert Gallery, University of Illinois, Champaign; the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Detroit Institute of Art, Michigan; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University, Indiana; the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Leah Balsham died in 2015 in Beverley Shores, Indiana