How is it that sculptor George Julian Zolnay (pictured), grandson of Hungarian ceramics impresario Miklós Zsolnay, came to be the director of the Art Institute at University City Missouri, where Taxile Doat, world famous ceramist, was a high-ranking faculty member?
Taxile Doat (1851-1939) is best known today as the international master of grand feu (high-fired) porcelain and stoneware and one of the first successful studio potters. In an era when artists and craftsmen closely guarded their secret methods and materials, he is also recognized as a generous teacher of kiln technology, clay and glaze formulas.
Born in the picturesque town of Albi, France, Doat obtained a college education there before joining the department of Posts and Telegraphs in Rennes. Soon thereafter, he transferred to a position in Limoges. Most likely inspired by the products of the local ceramics factories, he developed a passion for pottery. While continuing to work, he trained in Limoges at the Ecole Dubouché, where students were able to study a wide range of ceramics topics.
Meanwhile, George Julian Zolnay (1863 -1949) was coming of age in Bucharest, Romania. His father, Ignác Zsolnay, co-owner of the Zsolnay Porcelain Factory, in Pécs, had moved there in around 1864, after his branch of the family business failed. Young Zolnay (it is not known when the spelling of the name was changed) showed an early interest in art but his father discouraged him from pursuing it. The youth attended the Saint Sava National College in his hometown. After serving as a cadet in the Romanian military forces, he entered the civil service and studied sculpting on the side. Subsequently, and with parental approval, he decided to devote himself to sculpture. He graduated from the Royal Art Academy of Bucharest and continued his studies in Paris and Vienna, where he received a Grand Prize for his work. As a result, the Vienna art establishment provided him with an art studio and a cash allowance.
In 1892 the U.S. consul-general to Vienna persuaded Zolnay to work at the Chicago World's Fair. He adapted quickly to life in the United States and decided to move to New York City, where he was among the founders of the National Arts Club and its first vice-president. He was also the president of the St. Louis Plastic Arts Association and director of the Chicago School of Fine Arts. In 1903 Zolnay was appointed the director of the art department of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and in 1909 he became the director of the Art Institute at University City Missouri, where Taxile Doat was to be a high-ranking faculty member.
By 1909 Doat had been employed in the decorating department at Sèvres or working in his own studio for 32 years. Like other accomplished artisans, he was granted a personal atelier within the Sèvres factory. There he experimented with forms and decorations within the firm's parameters, meanwhile creating more daring work at his private studio in Paris. In 1905, his persistent independence brought about his dismissal from the Sèvres factory.
Four years later, Doat was invited to join the faculty of the Art Institute at University City Missouri. He served as the director of the ceramics department under the general guidance of George Zolnay, the school's director. Other faculty members included distinguished ceramists Adelaide Alsop Robineau, Frederick Hurten Rhead, and Emile Diffloth. While in America, Doat continued to create marvelous crystalline glazes on simple vase and bottle forms and also naturalistic gourd and vegetable forms.
The degree to which Doat and Zolnay interacted is not known. However, their simultaneous presence in St. Louis is an indication that international trends in the arts owed as much to employment-related travel as it did to exposure through expositions and publications. While the turn of the twentieth century was an era before the airplanes, television, and Internet, people from around the globe managed to come together at an ever-increasing rate. Indeed it was possible, even then, to overcome great distances and nationalistic ideologies in the service of art.