Betty Lynd Thompson’s Danceramics

In celebration of Oregon Archives Month, SCARC staff have pulled together a few of their favorite things in our collections. This is the second in the series.


When I first learned of Professor Betty Lynd Thompson and saw photographs of the enigmatic and graceful modern dance movements that were part of her instruction from the 1930s through the 1950s, it was truly an enchanting moment. One of the joys of being an archivist for me is the chance to discover different worlds of knowledge and art through the lens of preserving OSU history. If seeing those images was fun and inspiring, receiving examples of Thompson’s “danceramics” to add to the Betty Lynd Thompson Papers took that sense of enchantment to a whole another level!  

Thompson taught modern dance in the Physical Education Department from 1927 until 1972. During a sabbatical leave in New York City in the 1930s where she studied with modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, Thompson also developed an interest in clay sculpture. In a wonderful fusion of interests, Thompson started to form clay figures engaged in modern dance moves. She called this new art form “danceramics.”   

This image documents the amazing range of danceramic figures that Thompson sculpted. The example that Thompson is holding in this view was produced in multiple quantities and given as awards to outstanding student members of the Orchesis National Honorary Society.

This actual example of one of Professor Thompson’s sculptures was awarded to alumna Phyllis Brown in 1950. It was donated to the Special Collections and Archives in 2017 by the OSU Alumni Association and is now described as part of the Betty Lynd Thompson Papers.    

As someone who has dabbled in clay craft for a number of years, these sculptures speak to me on many different levels. Aware of how tricky handbuilding sculptures in clay can be, I recognize Thompson’s skill in creating these figurines while at the same time admire that she formed a wonderfully creative way to document her legacy of instruction and dance to the university!   


Karl McCreary is a Collections Archivist, and has the opportunity to review, transfer, and describe many of the incoming additions to the collections.  His particular specialty within SCARC is working with materials documenting the OSU community and the myriad facets of it’s world-alumni, faculty, departments, clubs, and associated organizations. The variety of subject matter is bewildering!

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