Born to Greek immigrant parents in Bozeman, Montana, Voulkos was a key figure in the move toward formal abstraction in American ceramics, and his career redefined the boundaries of the medium of clay. Introduced to ceramics by Frances Senska at Montana State University, he completed his BS degree in 1951. Voulkos and fellow student Rudy Autio were deeply influenced by Senska’s commitment to personal expression. Voulkos received an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, in 1952. He then became the first resident director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. Voulkos returned to California in 1954, where he founded two influential university ceramics departments: in 1954, at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles (which became a hub for the Los Angeles ceramic avant-garde), and at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1959. Through these institutions, he became a seminal figure in the clay communities of California and was instrumental in training a generation of abstract
expressionist ceramic sculptors.