Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter (2023)


Roberto Lugo discovered the art of pottery in his early 20s. It led him to college and a wildly successful career making pots that draw on the history of ceramics and his own background as a Puerto Rican kid growing up in Philadelphia. Now he has work at the Metropolitan and Philadelphia Museums of Art (among many others), and a new exhibition at Grounds for Sculpture: "Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter" (May 22, 2022 - January 8, 2023).

Producer Susan Wallner, Narrator Nemuna Ceesay, Director of Photography Joe Conlon. Drone Camera Joseph McGann and Colibri Workshop. Additional photographs and video courtesy Roberto Lugo Studio, Grounds for Sculpture, Mural Arts Philadelphia, R & Company, and Michael Seeley. Special thanks to Elyse Topalian, Isabel Oberlender, and Amy Johnston.


♪♪ Lugo: Growing up where I did, it affects everything, and I.

Think that's why I talk about it, so much.

Even, being able to go to college seems like a dream.

Come true.

Being able to have the time to do something like make.

Pottery seems like something impossible.

That's come in your life.

Narrator: Roberto Lugo grew up in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia in a tight-knit Puerto Rican family.

In his early twenties, he discovered pottery.

It, led him to the Kansas City Art Institute and, from there, to Penn State, where he earned a master's degree in fine arts., Lugo:, You know, to some.

It might seem like a stretch to connect pottery and the streets of Philadelphia, but, for me.

Those are two things that I sort of winded up falling in love: with.

So, one of the first things that I made was a fire-hydrant soap dispenser, because sometimes my father and I would shower in the fire hydrant when the water would get shut.


So it's like --.

It might seem like a negative experience for somebody else, but for me.

These are kind of, like, pleasant, childhood memories., You, know, they're, wrapped in complicated narratives of, you know, being poor and not having certain things, but at the time, it just seemed like a lot of fun.

Narrator: In 2015, fresh out of grad school, Roberto, gave an Emerging Artist talk at a national arts.


Lugo: I put my face on pots, because I want to put my face in a place that doesn't belong.

(Video) Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter

I, want you to get used to it.

100 years from now.

I want a lot of people of color to be on pots so that you see it every day and you become comfortable with it.

Narrator: His talk went viral, and his career has been supercharged ever since.

His pots are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many others.

He's, an assistant professor at Temple University's Tyler School of Art.

But, most days.

You can find him at his studio just outside Philadelphia's city limits., ♪♪, Lugo:, My studio is actually only 5 minutes away from my home, which is great.

Most of the people that have worked here.

Some of them are former students of mine.

Some of them are people that I went to college with, just people that I've met through the arts.


That's why I called the exhibition in Grounds for Sculpture "Village Potter,", because I really think that it takes a village to be able to create a potter.

♪♪ Narrator: The ceramic pieces in The, Village Potter exhibition at Grounds for Sculpture were all made on site.

Schneider: For, a four- or five-month period.

This gallery was turned into a studio that enabled Roberto to make the work.

That's here., That's, a long part of our tradition, is working with artists and giving them the opportunity.

The technical support to take new steps in their career.

Narrator: The giant vessel, was designed by Roberto, then fabricated, out of high-density foam at the Johnson Atelier, a cutting-edge facility where many pieces now at Grounds for Sculpture were made.

Lugo: The.

Big piece for me is very symbolic of what I do with my smaller work.

People have an inherent need to see themselves reflected in art, you know, and that's why they take pictures of themselves.

They want to feel like they were there, like they existed.

(Video) Roberto Lugo: A Village Potter


So this particular piece was designed to be bigger than a person so that a person can climb into the vignette, the central area, where I normally paint portraits, and then they can be the portrait.

Narrator: The other pots in the exhibition portray people Roberto admires, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Celia, Cruz, Bob Marley, and the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Her portrait is surrounded by peacock feathers.

A reference to the exotic birds found strolling, the gardens at Grounds for Sculpture.

Schneider: And.

He was thinking about what the symbolism of peacocks have been around the world, and one of those is honor.

And, as he was making that work.

It was literally the same week or two that the Supreme Court Justice nomination hearings were occurring for incoming Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.


He made that connection of wanting to center her, honoring her, but he was also struck by this idea of someone.

That was a judge who was on trial and being judged.

Cruz: ...pedophiles were getting..

Narrator: Roberto Lugo's reimagined portrait faces, keep classic pottery forms.


His research gives him ideas, but his work is all about the world.

We live in., Lugo: A lot of times.

They remind you of a bunch of different countries.

You know what I mean? Like..

One of the things.

That's really important for me in my art is the idea of representation, and not just representation of people of color, but, like, of experiences and my particular experience.

When I was in graduate school and actually the end of undergraduate.

My brother was incarcerated.

(Video) Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter by Rava Films

Like many of the stories of people that come from where I do, it was an incarceration that if he was white or if he had more money, he wouldn't have been incarcerated.

There's, no doubt about that.

To, someone else, they might be a prisoner, but me, I see my brother.

You know, having his birthday with a cake in front of them., And I.

Remember, playing in the fire hydrant with him and all the memories that we had together.

So, I, think of the boy, you know, who, for some reason or another, this world winded up, locking up, and it's so difficult.


That is such a..

normal experience for a person that comes from where I do., ♪♪ Narrator: His brother is now free and has a successful business.

But the scars remain.

With Roberto, the past is always present.


One reason why he wanted to work with Mural Arts in Philadelphia.

Lugo: I really only had a couple of art influences, and one of them was the Mural Arts program in Philadelphia.

I, didn't know it a mural-arts, program.

I just knew it as all the murals that were in Philly.

But, there's a lot of portraits of people of color especially, and that really connected with me.

Like, I, never stepped into museums.

To look at art, never had art, classes.

So, it's not like I was learning who Dalí was or Michelangelo.

It was just.

You know, the portrait of Harriet Tubman that I saw.

So when I started talking to Mural Arts.

(Video) Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter

Looking at the work that I do, I knew that I wanted it to be a pot, and I really wanted to do.

A mural of Black Thought of the Roots.

Tariq Trotter is -- He's Black Thought, which is the lead vocalist for the band.

The Roots, which is also on the "Jimmy Fallon", show five nights: a week., Black Thought: ♪ Lost your mind, trying to call me a moulinyan ♪ Lugo:, You know.

He grew up in a very similar neighborhood that I did in Philadelphia.

And, knowing all of the things that he had to go through in his life.

To be able to be where he's at and to be such a respected.

Musician has always been a huge inspiration for me.

Black Thought: ♪ Courage esteem is aquamarine.

♪ ♪ You mask how you really feel like it's Halloween ♪, ♪ Where.

They ask how you really feel about my machine ♪ ♪ In, a class that I'm only in ♪ ♪ Alien, horsepower like a Mongolian, ♪, Narrator:, Pottery changed, maybe even saved Roberto Lugo's, life.

It's, a gift he's making sure to give back.

Schneider: Clay can be for everyone, and so he was very gracious in not having the hands-on making activities in a little corner, in the back of the room, or in another building, but central to people's experience that they, too, like him, can take clay and make art.

Lugo: I had always had a really empathetic soul, even as a child, and so growing up, I always, like, really felt all the detritus around me, all of the crime around me.

It really affected me quite a bit.


At the same time, in my neighborhood, I saw so many people that had to work twice as hard as everyone.


You know, work, two jobs, mothers who were really trying to protect their children.

There are just so many kind people who also live in this place, but all people see, is the crime and the poverty.


You know, one of the things that I really try to do in representing where I'm from is, like, show the full spectrum and the reality of those places, because a lot of greatness comes from those places because, when you're, trying to overcome, that doesn't leave you when you go into another career.

And so, as a potter, I still have the work ethic of someone who comes from Kensington, which is a really great asset to me..

(Video) How artist Roberto Lugo is upending porcelain traditions with his personal, cultural roots


Where does Roberto Lugo live? ›

Roberto Lugo (b. 1981) is a Philadelphia-based potter, social activist, spoken word poet, and educator. Calling himself the “ghetto potter,” Lugo creates ceramics that subvert traditional forms and techniques by reimagining them with a 21st-century street sensibility inspired by urban graffiti and hip-hop culture.

How does Roberto Lugo create his work? ›

In his artwork, Lugo integrates graffiti-style painting techniques onto hand-thrown ceramic pieces. Most notably, he places prominent African Americans, hip-hop imagery, and contemporary political commentaries on classic ceramic forms such as teapots, kraters, and urns.

What materials does Roberto Lugo use? ›

He uses various clays including stoneware, terracotta, and porcelain. His work is thrown or hand-built. Typical forms include ginger jars, vases, teapots, and plates. His surfaces may be finished with slip, china paint, and lusters.

Where is Roberto Lugo now? ›

Roberto Lugo attended Kansas City Art Institute, earning his BA in 2012, and went on to the Penn State University School of Visual Arts to earn his MFA in 2014. He is a Ph. D. candidate in Art Education from Penn State, and is now a tenure track professor of ceramics at Marlboro College in Vermont.

What are 3 facts about Roberto Lugo? ›

Roberto Lugo holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, among many others.

Where does Roberto Lugo work as a teacher? ›

Faculty: Roberto Lugo | Tyler School of Art and Architecture.

What type of clay does Roberto Lugo use? ›

Self-described "ghetto potter" Roberto Lugo uses porcelain, a medium traditionally reserved for the wealthy, to explore inequality and racial and social justice.

Who influenced Roberto Lugo? ›

Roberto Lugo's pottery is born from the streets of North Philadelphia. Influenced by hip-hop culture, graffiti art and Black history, his pots, cups and plates memorialise a lived experience that is not often recognised by traditional institutions.

What does Lugo say is a part of being a postmodern artist? ›

Lugo: When I say I'm ghetto, I actually think of it as I'm representing a certain culture. I think that's part of being a postmodern artist, is being able to represent where you come from.


1. Philadelphia pottery artist Roberto Lugo
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2. Roberto Lugo: The Village Potter @groundsforsculpture #exhibit #art #pottery #nj
(Natalie's World Great Adventure)
3. Meet Roberto Lugo, the Hip-Hop Potter
(60 Second Docs)
4. Roberto Lugo Creates Giant Pottery and Community Conversation at Grounds for Sculpture
5. Finding Belonging and Reclaiming Space | Roberto Lugo | TEDxPenn
(TEDx Talks)
6. Roberto Lugo: Power of Art
(Kansas City Art Institute)
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