Born on August 19 in Helsinki, Finland, Maija Grotell studied painting, sculpture and design at the The Ateneum, the Central School of Industrial Art graduating in 1920. Grotell is sometimes described as the “mother of American ceramics” and was revered for her experiments in glaze technology. She came to New York in 1927 and during the Summer studied at the New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, Alfred, New York. There were not huge opportunities for a career in ceramics despite the success of the Art Potteries — American ceramics was still either industry or hobby based.
From 1936-1938, Grotell became the first art instructor at the School of Ceramic Engineering at Rutgers University. In 1938 she joined the Cranbrook Academy of Art and taught until 1966. Her teaching philosophy was to foster students’ creative independence. In her career she would win over twenty-five major exhibition awards and have her work included in over twenty-one museums.
Grotell worked in stoneware and porcelain. She used simply thrown geometric forms with brushed-on colored slips and glazes. Her glaze formulas remain part of her legacy, and in fact, one of her glaze formulas was requested by architect Eliel Saarinen to be used on bricks. This opened the door to the architectural uses of colored bricks in mid-20th century architecture.
Grotell died in Pontiac, Michigan in 1973.