An influential artist, Staffel inspired generations of his students at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art to consider ceramics on a par with painting and sculpture. He is among the first artists to have used raw porcelain as his primary medium.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Staffel began painting as a child. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but left after a year. He traveled to Mexico, where he began working in ceramics.
Staffel became an instructor at Tyler School of Art in 1940. While there, he met Doris Blitman, who was a student; they married in 1942. The couple lived for a number of years in New York, where they both studied with Hans Hofmann. On returning to Philadelphia in 1948, he resumed his teaching at Tyler and, with Doris, purchased a home on Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill. Staffel was awarded a Pew Fellowship in 1996. The following year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a retrospective of his work.