Born to Greek immigrant parents in Bozeman, Montana, Peter Voulkos was a key figure in the formal abstraction of American ceramics. His career redefined the boundaries of the medium of clay. Introduced to ceramics by Frances Senska at Montana State University, he completed his Bachelor of Science in 1951. Voulkos and fellow student Rudy Autio were deeply influenced by Senska’s commitment to personal expression through making.
Voulkos received a Master of Fine Art from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California in 1952. He returned to Montana to become the first Resident Director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. After a brief stint as the Resident Director of the Foundation, Voulkos returned to California in 1954 where he founded two influential university ceramics departments; in 1954, the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles (which became a hub for the Los Angeles ceramic avant-garde) and the University of California, Berkeley in 1959. Through these institutions, Voulkos became a seminal figure in the clay communities of California and was instrumental in training a generation of abstract expressionistic ceramic sculptors.