Robert Arneson
American artist



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Robert Arneson
American artist
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Date of Birth

September 04, 1930

Place of Birth

Benicia, California, U.S.A.

Date of Death

November 02, 1992

Place of Death

Benicia, California, U.S.A.

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From newspaper cartoonist to college football hopeful to wunderkind ceramist.

As a kid, Robert Arneson would sketch and draw for hours at a stretch. The practice developed into a paid gig drawing cartoons for the sports section of his hometown newspaper, the Benicia Herald, while Arneson was still in high school. Graduation brought him across the Bay to Kentfield to attend College of Marin, where he studied art and made a go out of playing on the school's football team. The moment most often noted from his time in Kentfield was a "D" grade he earned for his first ceramics class.

His first big career move was teaching art to high school students. The position required a foundational understanding of ceramics, so Arneson started boning up on the medium. Local pottery classes and nights spent perusing ceramics magazines evolved into taking courses at San Jose State College, then California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and then Mills College. Clay spoke to Arneson, and he felt a compulsion to explore his budding creative vision despite the popular understanding in the contemporary art scene that clay was for amateurs and hobbyists.

These ceramic ambitions received something akin to official sanction when Arneson was picked up by the University of California, Davis to teach ceramics in the school's brand-spankin'-new MFA program alongside such renowned artists as Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley. Arneson described the experience by saying, “For me, being picked up by the University of California at Davis was, in a way, like the Medicis deciding that they were going to sponsor me as an artist.”

Grants from the state of California and the National Endowment for the Arts took Arneson and his ilk around the world: Off to New York, then the Midwest, then Europe. Eventually, in the mid-'70s, he moved back to his hometown of Benicia. There, he bought an old saloon, set up a studio, and subsequently added another studio next door. The original studio now houses a restaurant and the space next door houses his workshop, as well as the Arneson Archive, run by his wife Sandra Shannonhouse and his son Kirk Arneson.

Arneson fought cancer for a number of years, until the disease took his life in 1992. Purportedly, Arneson had wrote some time before his passing that he “wanted his body glazed, fired up to 2000 degrees, and when it's cool, roll me over and shake out my ashes...Make a glaze and color it bright.” The town of Benicia honored its beloved son by dedicating a park along the Carquinez Strait in his memory.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Robert Arneson

Robert Carston Arneson (September 4, 1930 – November 2, 1992) was an American sculptor and professor of ceramics in the Art department at UC Davis for nearly three decades.


Arneson was born in Benicia, California. He graduated from Benicia High School and spent much of his early life as a cartoonist for a local paper. Arneson studied at California College of the Arts in Oakland, California for his BFA and went on to receive an MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California in 1958.

During the start of the 1960s, Arneson and several other California artists began to abandon the traditional manufacture of functional ceramic objects and instead began to make nonfunctional sculptures that made confrontational statements. The new movement was dubbed Funk Art, and Arneson is considered the father of the ceramic Funk movement.

His body of work contains many self-portraits which have has been described as an "autobiography in clay".Doyen from 1972, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art is an example of the artist's humorously caricatured self-portraits.

Even his large Eggheads sculptures bear a self-resemblance. Among the last works Arneson completed before his 1992 death, five Eggheads were installed on campus at UC Davis around 1994. The controversial pieces continue to serve as a source of interest and discussion on the campus, even inspiring a campus blog by the same name. Two additional copies of Eggheads were installed in San Francisco.

One of Arneson's most famous and controversial works is a bust of George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco who was assassinated in 1978. Inscribed on the pedestal of the bust are words representing events in Moscone's life, including his assassination: the words "Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang", "Twinkies," and "Harvey Milk Too!" are visible on the front of the pedestal.

Teaching career

Arneson's teaching career began soon after receiving his MFA degree from California College of Arts, with a stint at Santa Rosa Junior College, in Santa Rosa, California (1958–59). This was followed by a position at Fremont High School (1959–60) in Oakland, California, before advancing to teach design and crafts at Mills College, also located in Oakland (1960–62).

Arneson's next appointment (in 1962) was at UC Davis, where his talents were recognized by Richard L. Nelson, who had founded the Art Department. It was during this period of the early 60s that Nelson was assembling a faculty that would come to be celebrated as one of the most prestigious in the nation. In addition to Arneson, Nelson had also selected Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley, each of whom would go on to achieve international recognition...

Initially hired to teach design classes (in the College of Agriculture), it was Arneson who established the ceramic sculpture program for the Art Department. It was in many ways a bold and radical move, in that ceramics were not yet recognized as a medium appropriate for fine art at that time.

Since its founding, the campus ceramics studio has been housed in a corrugated metal building known as TB-9, and it was here that Arneson held court for nearly three decades until his retirement in the summer of 1991.


Arneson died on November 2, 1992, after a long battle with liver cancer. His home town of Benicia, California established a park in his memory, along the Carquinez Strait.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Robert Arneson.