Rick Dillingham

born Lake Forest, IL 1952-died Santa Fe, NM 1994
Also known as
  • James Richard Dillingham II
Lake Forest, Illinois, United States
Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
  • American

Working in New Mexico, Rick Dillingham found a source of inspiration for his ceramics in the ancient Mimbres culture. Excavations of Mimbres sites in southern New Mexico have produced beautifully painted low-fired pottery punctured with holes; archaeologists believe these pieces were ritually "killed" in order to release the inherent life force that would otherwise have been trapped in the clay or decoration. In his mature work, Dillingham would break and reassemble his ceramic forms, creating objects with a patchwork appearance. Dillingham found beauty in the commonplace and the ugly, as we see in his appropriation of the form of a gas can for this piece [Gas Can, SAAM, 1991.19.3].

Kenneth Trapp The Renwick at Twenty-Five (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1997).

Artist Biography

Rick Dillingham earned a B.F.A. degree at the University of New Mexico in 1974 and an M.F.A. degree at Claremont Graduate School, California, in 1976. As a volunteer, he spent time restoring Native American clay vessels for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. This tedious piecing together of clay shards inspired his hand-built ceramic vessels, which he formed and then broke, reassembling the pieces after painting and glazing them.

A guest curator of many exhibitions and a lecturer on Native American pottery, Diillingham also showed his own work throughout the country. Among his many other interests, he established Dillingham Press, which published books and articles.

Kenneth R. Trapp and Howard Risatti Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)


Quilt featuring the portrait of a woman
This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World
May 13, 2022April 2, 2023
This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World showcases the dynamic landscape of American craft today.