Watershed Legends: Ceramic Masters & Mentors

Watershed recognizes accomplished artists who have contributed notable innovations and ideas to the field of ceramics by honoring them as “Legends”. Selected by Watershed’s Board of Trustees, Legends have influenced and inspired members of the ceramics community for decades.

In 2021, we honored three new Legends: Magdalene Odundo, Walter Ostrom, and Judith S. Schwartz. Watch videos on each of the Legends and read more about their lives and histories below.


Magdalene Odundo


Magdalene Odundo, DBE is an accomplished ceramic artist and educator who currently serves as Chancellor and Professor Emerita of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Surrey and Kent, England, UK. 

Odundo is well known for her hand-coiled forms and luminescent surfaces. She achieves these finishes by scraping each piece with a gourd and hand burnishing the exteriors after firing in oxidation (for the reddish hues) or reduction (for black tones). Her pieces reference corporeal shapes while remaining in dialog with vessels traditionally made and used by women in sub-Saharan Africa. As sculptural objects, they challenge binary ideas of art and craft, and utility and decoration.

Originally trained as a graphic artist in Kenya, Odundo began working in clay after moving to the UK. She studied ceramics at the University for the Creative Arts and completed her postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Art in 1982. In 2020, she was made a Dame in the Queen’s New Years Honors list.

Her work is part of numerous museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The British Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and many others.

Walter Ostrom

A major force in the world of contemporary ceramics, Walter Ostrom is Professor Emeritus of the Ceramics department at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax. He is also Honorary Professor of ceramics at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute in Jingdezhen, China. He continues to play an instrumental role in the lives and work of myriad ceramic art students and is known for his dedication to mentorship. 

Ostrom is regarded internationally as a technical and academic expert in low-fire maiolica production, an ancient ceramic technique that he has personally tailored through innovations and decorative methods to reflect the geography of the places he has lived, be it Canada or China. In the span of his nearly 40-year career, Ostrom has investigated many aspects of ceramics in his work, from experiments in high conceptualism in the 1970s to his current focus on the exploration of the vast history, hybridization and social foundation of ceramics. Ostrom’s work has been exhibited throughout Canada, and in Europe, China, Australia, and the United States.

He has received numerous awards including the Saidye Bronfman Award for Outstanding Creativity in Craft, Jean A. Chalmers National Craft Award, the Portia White Prize, and the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Art. Additionally, Ostrom was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada.

Judith S. Schwartz

Judith S. Schwartz is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Art and Art Professions at New York University. There, she directed the Sculpture in Craft Media area and taught studio-based ceramics courses from 1970-2017. Throughout her career, she has engaged with art, craft, and creative practice as an educator, curator, artist, author, critic, and collector. 

Schwartz lectures and consults extensively and has published pieces in numerous journals and catalogs. Her book, Confrontational Ceramics, offers a survey of artist-activists whose work engages in critical social commentary. In partnership with the International Academy of Ceramics, Schwartz created Ceramics World Destinations a database of ​museums, galleries, stores, institutions, cultural sites, residencies, and public-facing studios. 

Among the many awards she has received for her work, Schwartz has been honored with the JD Rockefeller III grant in Art Education, the Renwick Museum of Art’s educator of the year, and the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts. She earned a B.A. in studio art from Queens College, an M.A. in art education, and a Ph.D. in art and art education, both from New York University. 

In addition to her decades-long dedication to education and mentorship, Schwartz’s service on arts nonprofit boards includes work with the University Council for Art Education, Studio Potter, Clay Art Center, Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, and the International Museum of Dinnerware Design. She currently serves as vice president of the International Academy of Ceramics and on the board of ArtsWestchester.