Sunday, October 30, 2022

In Memoriam: Frank Giorgini

It is with great sadness that I report on the recent death of a dear friend, the world-class ceramic artist and Udu drum maker Frank Giorgini, of Freehold, NY. He was 75 years old and had been undergoing treatment for cancer.

Frank and I first met in the mid-1980s when we both were teaching classes at the Harmanus Bleecker Center in Albany under the auspices of the Albany Institute of History & Art and the inimitable guidance of Monica Miller (also a wonderful artist). One of my favorite memories of that time was when we shared a two-person show at the Bleecker Center that featured Frank’s Udu drums and my photographs, all of it dusky and formal, a lovely pairing of sculpture and black-and-white pictures.

Frank was probably best known for his handmade and commercially manufactured clay pot drums, which are treasured by percussionists all over the world for their unique, earthy sounds and robust shapes, some exquisite examples of which are held in the permanent collection of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Frank used to proudly state that he was the only living person whose product was in that collection, though I suppose other living artists’ instruments may have been added after the fact. If not, then there are now none who can make that claim.

But Frank had equal impact in many other aspects of ceramic production, both in the commercial realm as a tile maker and in the fine art realm – though, in his case, the line between the two was fuzzy at best. Many will recognize his tile and mosaic installation in the Whitehall Street station of the Brooklyn BMT subway line, which was commissioned and installed in 2000. Entitled Passages, it traces the history of Manhattan backward in time using numerous airborne gulls as a unifying element (you can see many pictures of it here).

A detail from Passages
photo by Warren Sze
Nature and animals constantly featured in Frank’s personal work. Whether exploring the personas of humble blackbirds in his shimmering raku-fired tiles or adorning a decorative Udu with undulating lizards, he understood and celebrated these creatures as equals. As humans, we were fortunate that he also treated us with the same respect.

Most artists, no matter how talented, need something more in order to be successful – whether it’s a lucky break, an enthusiastic patron, or a trust fund. In Frank’s case, it was his congenial personality. Everyone liked Frank, and I can imagine no one who would have turned down an opportunity to work with him or support his vision.

One way he shared that vision was through teaching. He published books and instructional videos on tile making, and worked as an adjunct professor at Parsons design school in New York. Probably most important to Frank were the summer workshops he held at his Catskills home and studio for people of all ages and abilities who wanted to spend a little time in the country and learn how to build and fire an Udu drum.

Those two-weekend-long instructional experiences took place around Frank’s birthday, and always culminated in a grand potluck supper followed by a Bacchanalian bonfire, which naturally would be ringed by a large, happy throng of Udu-playing revelers. Though I never made an Udu drum, I stoked that fire nearly every year for decades, and danced around it with the best of them. Those Udu Fests will surely be among the most vivid – if slightly blurred – memories for many of Frank’s friends and fans.

Frank also was the proprietor, along with his partner, the great chef Ana Sporer, of Ruby’s Hotel, a delightful garden-to-table restaurant in Freehold that is expected to return to serving dinners after a period of mourning. As bartender and host at Ruby’s, Frank welcomed guests with his consistent good humor and, after dinner, he often shared a taste of his homemade limoncello, created using a recipe from his Italian ancestors, and as strong as it was sweet.

Above the restaurant was a gallery where, for many years, Frank mounted excellent shows of the best regional artists. The gallery was named in memory of another Frank, a close friend of the restaurant’s family and a supremely talented artist himself, who died way too young just before he was to have been the exhibition space’s inaugural director. I hope that the Broderick Gallery, too, will resume activities after a time, in loving memory of both Franks and their dedication to the joy of making and experiencing great art.

That and so much more remains as the legacy of one very fine person who also happened to be a brilliant artist, and a beloved friend to many.

The world was a better place with Frank Giorgini in it. May he rest in peace.

Note: If you’d like to get a taste of the amazing sound of the Udu drum, check out this extraordinary improvisation by Jacob Cole, a former workshop participant who posted it in Frank’s memory.


Ana and Frank at Ruby's


  1. A very nice piece. Sorry for the loss to the community and you personally.

  2. So sorry, David. I remember him as a very friendly man and his amazing drums.
    Unfortunately we never made it to his famous drum parties in the Catskills.
    May he Rest In Peace .

  3. Oh dear, what a loss. His gifts to our world are manifold and will endure. Your tribute to him is beautifully written.

  4. What a touching and eloquent eulogy. Makes me remember all those good times so vividly. He was very special and he will be missed.

  5. Thank you for your kind words about my Uncle

  6. David, you ALWAYS have the words . I treasure the photo of dad w/ Frank's wife on the motorcycle outside of the restaurant. RIP Frank.

  7. A really great man. May you rest in peace.

  8. Frank had many gifts. I attended one of his summer Udu workshops: great fun & inspirational. His collection of Udus in his pottery barn (& recordings) is memorable.I hope his family passes this on to someone knowledgeable enough to care for & share it. He will be missed.

  9. So sad. His book on tile making and his class at Parsons was my introduction to the world of clay and it changed my life. Great guy, wonderful teacher.

  10. Beautiful remembrance of Frank (known to us as "G"), who I have known for 62 years. As a teen, Frank's house was the place for the parties. So was the Mary Jo, his father's boat was another place that we'd party, out in the Great South Bay. I knew him when he left for Villanova, only to leave that quickly for Pratt in Brooklyn. I remember the apartment on Washington Avenue, and the big acrylic paintings. There's so much more, including the wonderful get togethers in Freehold in the last decades. A nicer man never existed We made the obligatory cross-country trip in 1970 with a few friends, and those memories never get old. And, of course, the music of the udu drums, another wonderful chapter in Frank's life. Sail on , G. You are missed.

    1. Thank you for the beautiful stories. I miss uncle Fran so much

  11. I am saddened to learn of this. I spent a very special week at his workshop several years ago, traveling from the west coast, and as I read this wonderful commentary on his life I sit with 2 udus that I made there. I remember, being a camper on his property, playing many of his udus that he had at his studio in the evenings when I needed a break from rolling coils. Yes, the bonfire, the special teacher from Africa, Frank, his family, the magic of the space and time. My wife and I drove around the country this past fall, and as we passed through upstate New York in late September my wife suggested I look up Frank…

    As I get older, the lessons get harder, but become more clear…
    Seize the day


  12. I am so sorry to hear of Frank’s passing but delighted to learn what an amazing life he lived and what he accomplished. I knew him in high school, me a naive sophomore with a mad crush on the cute senior. I’m not sure he ever knew who I was (that was probably for the best). I never heard about him again, until now., when I came across someone with the same last name, which prompted a Google search. My condolences to all who knew and loved him.

  13. I have known Frank for many years and always admired him for his dedication to his art and gentle soul. I was fortunate to be with Frank and Ana at the Udu workshops and be with all of their congenial, fun-loving friends. What a together group of people who would gather to be with Frank and Ana to spend time together. It conjures wonderful memories that I cherish.
    Frank was an inspiration to any artist. He enjoyed the world around him and created glorious art to celebrate life and all of its natural beauty. He was a dear friend that I will surely miss. RIP

  14. I know this is a little late. Im just finding out he passed away and wanted to share my experience. In 1992 and 1993 it was my Jr/Sr years and i worked for Frank in his studio. He also let me attend his summer workshop. I still have my two drums. I was introduced to Frank via another student who had been working for him. I imagine there have been many kids that Frank worked with over the years. To me he was a very kind, warm and welcoming person. He made me look at working with clay in such a different perspective. After graduating, I ended up going a different direction then the art world. However having the privilege to work for him is still an experience that is one of my favorite.i would look him up from time to time, but never reach out to thank him. The world has lost a special spirit.

  15. Kate Broderick KrukApril 6, 2024 at 7:39 AM

    Lovely tribute.

  16. I just found this today when I looked up Frank's name after reading his book again on handmade tiles. I took a class from Frank in the mid-90s in Portland. He was an inspiration for a lot of my work. So sorry to hear of his passing.