Nora Eccles Harrison Treadwell
Nora Eccles, who preferred to be called “Noni,” grew up in Logan as a child in one of the wealthiest families in the state of Utah, but she had ambition to make an impact, and she did. She “liked to move her body and dance with the clay,” said Mark Prieto, a ceramist in the Bay Area, whose parents, Antonio (Tony) and Eunice, were best friends to Noni and Walt Treadwell. She had a “playful approach to clay . . . a captivating personality and a love of ceramics,” Prieto said.
In addition to her enthusiasm for collecting art and ceramics and her myriad of travels, Noni wanted to learn how to make ceramics. She enrolled in classes at California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC) in Oakland, where she became Tony Prieto’s student in 1946. When Prieto transferred to Mills College in 1950, she moved her classes to Mills. Noni was on site when these two institutions played a crucial role in the development of studio pottery in America. She proved to be skilled potter, enough to be invited to teach at CCAC & Mills from 1952 to 1953. She was an active member of the renowned Mills College Ceramics Guild and exhibited her pottery annually at the San Francisco Potters Association.
Tony and Eunice Prieto played a considerable role in Noni’s artistic development. Some of the Prieto’s forms and themes can be seen in Noni’s works. Tony frequently decorated his pottery with various types of birds. You can see this on Noni’s owl pitcher with carved sgraffito (1984.60). Eunice made several compotes (a raised plate), and Noni attempted a similar form, which you can see on this shelf (1984.94).
Though Noni’s work is small in scale, it is possible to follow her skill trajectory from heavier pieces to more balanced, detailed and refined. Depending on which studio she was working, she used different clay bodies. There are six clay bodies represented here, from rough stoneware, smoother dark stoneware, earthenware (terra cotta) and porcelain—each requiring slightly different skill sets. It is clear that she loved to ‘play’ with clay through her assorted forms and surface decorations. Here, you see a candleholder, teapot, raised plate with split foot, and various bottles. She formulated what Eunice and Noni called her “N” glaze, which was quite advanced for its’ time. It could be used in oxidation (electric) and reduction (gas) firings. It is probably the grey or tan glazes on these works.
As the sixth of nine children to pioneer industrialist David Eccles, Noni attended Barnard College in New York City, Utah State University, University of California-Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in psychology. In 1926, she married Walt Treadwell a photographer and filmmaker. She had a studio, wheel and kiln in the Oakland home they built. By all accounts, they inspired and assisted each other’s work.
Noni had a commitment to ceramics. She included in her estate a $2 million gift and four-hundred ceramics from her collection to be given to Utah State University in 1982. She also established the Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation, which continues to support her legacy with annual gifts to the museum to purchase ceramics. Other examples of her contribution to studio ceramics in Western United States is the 1973 California College of Art (CCA) Noni Eccles Treadwell Ceramics Center, the 1940s Noni Eccles Treadwell Scholarship at CCAC; and the establishment of the USU Noni Eccles Harrison Graduate Fellowship in ceramics. In honor of her mother, the Ellen Stoddard Eccles undergraduate scholarship at USU demonstrates Noni’s lasting impact as a patron to potters throughout the West.
Through our 2022 eyes, perhaps she was more amateur in skill as a potter, but she was skilled as a philanthropist who made an extraordinary impact on the development of studio ceramics in the West through scholarships, collections, her Foundation, and the establishment of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art.
Billie Sessions, PhD.