A pierced ceramic basket by the late David Batz

The late David Batz.

By JEANNIE EMSER SCHULTZ
Thirty years ago, June 23, the art world and Northeast Ohio lost a singular luminary. David Batz was famous for his award-winning ceramics, sculpture, hand-made paper, prints, graphics and polychrome totems. His pottery would command prices in the thousands of dollars, and his works were selected for more than 17 of Cleveland Museum of Art’s prestigious May Shows.
Hired as the new ceramics professor at Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), David moved to Cleveland in 1970. By 1980, David and fellow artist and life partner Robert Jursinski had become Cleveland’s art scene fixtures as owners of Fiori Galleries in Little Italy. At Fiori they not only

Nature inspires Jursinski to paint.

showcased their own art (and featured the renowned glass sculptures of David’s former instructor and friend Dale Chihuly) but established Fiori as an art mecca for emerging and established artists as well as art lovers.
But on that June 23 in 1994, at age 49 and the height of his career, David would be felled by a fatal heart attack while he and Robert visited Puerto Vallarta. In his grief, Robert placed David’s remaining works into storage, and simultaneously stepped away from his own art career. For decades Robert did not set foot into the storage unit. Finally, ongoing urging by friends to resume his artistic pursuits – and the decision to donate his and David’s paper-making studio – led Robert back to the unit. He confided that entering the storage facility after decades was an emotional experience – confronted by both his partner’s remaining art and long-stored furniture from his late parents’ home.
Providence dictated it was now time to revisit the “lost art of David Batz.” But how to proceed? Last year, Robert’s friend Professor Emeritus Joe Garry, Jr. first hosted a private exhibit, the success of which would prompt the pair to launch two public exhibitions, taking place this month only…the last opportunity for art lovers to purchase an original David Batz before his work becomes a permanent collection of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. These special “Raiders of the Lost Art” exhibitions will include Batz ceramics and porcelain pieces along with the paintings by his partner Robert Jursinski.
Hosted by Joe Garry and Robert Jursinski, the public exhibits will take place:
Saturday, June 22: 2 – 4 p.m. at Context Gallery, Ste. 303, W. 80th Street (W. 78th Street Studios), Cleveland – and Sunday, June 23: 2 – 4 p.m. at the Patti DiBenedetto Corna Gallery, Ste. 103, The Ohio Design Centre, 23530 Mercantile Rd., Beachwood
The works of Batz and Jursinski were at the forefront again in 2021, achieving international acclaim when a collaborative 1987 piece was sold in auction at Sotheby’s Paris. (Copies of the piece had originally been commissioned by Progressive Insurance Founder/CEO Peter B. Lewis as 150 collectible invitations to a 1987 party he hosted.)
Robert and David’s art collaboration included environmental efforts, becoming heavily involved in campaigns to save the planet as far back as the 1980s. Developing a paper made from banana leaves known as “abaca,” this collaboration in 1987 created the “Line Drawing Sculpture Series” — abaca paper wrapped around grapevines and branches to appear as if skin were hanging from human bone.
Today Robert’s renewed art career includes “pulp painting”— a technique which applies pigmented pulp to a freshly formed paper substitute which is then pressed. The Cleveland Heights-based artist blends modern European paper-making techniques with those of ancient Japanese techniques. His pieces are intuitively and largely inspired by nature that germinated from his beguilement of an orchid during one of his travels. Influenced by Henri Matisse, David Hockney and Jan van Huysum, Robert’s works have been commissioned for corporate collections as well as being exhibited in New York, Chicago and Mendocino.
Remembering his late partner, Robert relates one of the celebrated stories about David.While at the CIA satellite school he’d established in Provence, France, David made the decision to stop wearing a wristwatch. David told Robert, “I walked out on the Pont-du-Gard one night and tossed my watch into the river. I gave up time forever.” Robert explains, “With the philosophers and mystics he admired – Buber, Camus and Ouspensky – David believed ‘time’ was the opponent of life. He had so much to do.” Cruelly, the universe had other plans. Left uncompleted at the time of David’s death were two final commissioned pieces: the doors to the arches at both St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and Mayfield Heights’ Temple Israel Ner Tamid.
In addition to his art, Robert recalled David’s passions were legion. As a gay-rights activist he co-founded a nationwide task force championing AIDS-awareness programs and municipal gay-rights laws – when others were hesitant to be involved – and served as a delegate representing LQBTQ+ interests to the ‘80s Democratic National Convention.
David and Roberts’s extensive travels –climbing Mexico’s Pyramid of the Sun, visiting Paleolithic caves at Lascaux, France and the Druid megaliths of Stonehenge—contributed to their never-ending experimental and celebrated designs. “David’s functional ceramics and stoneware pieces were so unique, so inviting, you wanted to hold them,” explains Robert, adding, “and David would be very happy to finally see that his art is seeing the light of day once again at our upcoming June exhibits.”