Warren MacKenzie Remembrance | 2019 Regional Award of Excellence

Warren MacKenzie Remembrance | 2019 Regional Award of Excellence

If I knew how to make wonderful pots, I would never again make a bad one. My favorite pots are those that have allowed me to discover their surprises and hidden beauty only after many years of daily use.

Photo Credit: Randy Johnston

-Warren MacKenzie, excerpt from Regis Masters Series lecture, courtesy of Northern Clay Center, St. Paul, 1997

Perhaps no name is more highly and respectfully associated with the American studio pottery movement and its inspirational resonance with the values of the Mingei movement than Warren MacKenzie’s. He did not seek this recognition or leadership; rather, he became it through his passion, dedication, and daily studio practice. Warren’s commitment to the creation of the “honest” pot inspired his students and makers across the region, throughout the United States, and extended to international communities.


Click below to listen to an interview with Ben Carter of Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, in 2015, in which Warren discusses receiving recognition for his work:


The St. Croix River Valley, the area of Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin bordering the lower St. Croix River, became and continues to be a ceramic-rich region, attracting makers, educators, collectors, and enthusiasts, in large part due to Warren’s long-time residence and established pottery in Stillwater, Minnesota.  

Warren’s journey in clay began in 1946, after he returned from serving in the army during World War II. Like many other soldiers, he took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After an unsuccessful attempt to register for a painting class– he was turned away as the enrollment was full— he made a fateful choice between costume design and ceramics, the two classes that had space available. His passion for clay and, specifically, pottery, was born, and he later started a pottery in the basement of the family home of his first wife, Alix [Alixandria Kolesky], whom he married in 1947.

In looking at these pots at the Field Museum, Alix and I both came to a conclusion individually but also collectively that the pots that really interested us were the pots that people had used in their everyday life, and we began to think – I mean, whether it was ancient Greece or Africa or Europe or wherever, the pots that people had used in their homes were the ones that excited us. And so we thought, if those are the kinds of pots from every culture that interest us, why would we think that it should be any different in mid-North America 20th century? And we decided then that our work would center around that sort of utilitarian pottery, and that’s what I’ve done ever since.

– Warren MacKenzie, excerpt from oral history interview by Robert Silberman for the Smithsonian Archive of American Art, 29 October 2002

Photo Credit: Randy Johnston Image Description: Warren stoking the Anagama at McKeachie-Johnston Studios in River Falls, Wisconsin, 2008.

A celebrated storyteller, Warren often relied on anecdotes to reveal critical insights like this one about his early ceramics training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “About halfway through the year, one of the students discovered a book by Bernard Leach called A Potters Book [London: Faber & Faber, 1940] and came into the class very excited. And we all rushed out and bought this book, because Leach talked about establishing his pottery in England, his training in Japan, and the way a pottery can be run. He said such things as, ‘Any person should be able to make 50 pots easily in a day’s time,’ and, ‘Any person should be able to throw a 15-inch-tall cylinder.’ Well, we couldn’t do any of those things.” Not long after this memorable encounter, in 1950, Warren and Alix journeyed to Cornwall, England where they worked for two years as apprentices in the Leach Pottery. In 1953, he returned to Minnesota, where he established a pottery in Stillwater. For $10,000, Warren and Alix purchased a farm house, barn, chicken coup, machine shed, and acres of land. This idyllic setting has since housed this legendary maker’s studio and the production of thousands of pots and years and years of studio sales.

Alix and Warren collaborated in the making process, with Alix decorating wares, and the couple later taught at the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art. In 1962, Alix died of cancer at the age of 40. Together they had two daughters, Tamsyn and Shawn, both of whom he is survived by.

Beginning in 1953, Warren taught ceramics in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, where he is now recognized as a Regents’ Professor Emeritus, and in 2015 was awarded the Honorary Degree: Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of Liberal Arts. During his tenure, he influenced thousands of University students and young makers, many of whom have continued on to accomplished careers in ceramics, both as full-time makers and educators. Wayne Branum, Dick Cooter, Guillermo Cuellar, Nancy d’Estang, Barbara Diduk, Ron Gallas, Marlene Jack, Shirley Johnson, Randy Johnston, Maren Kloppmann, Jan McKeachie-Johnston, Mike Norman, Jeff Oestreich, Mark Pharis, Michael Simon, and Sandy Simon, to name a few, all went on to inspire and influence new generations of makers who aligned their studio practice with Warren’s and helped to create a culture of pottery and reverence for the handmade object.

As MacKenzie’s student in the Mingei-sota group, I felt strongly, and still do, that pots should be of use while still embodying a strong sense of aestheticism. Warren’s pots have never pandered to novelty They have never been outspoken, as he often is, and they are certainly not stylish. The are, however, comfortable and necessary additions to the homes and kitchens of us all. They are spiritual, often transcendental….  Warren is fun, laughs easily, loves gestures, and is totally obsessed with making pots—constantly. His message to us way back then was that if you want to make pots, ‘Just go do it.’ It sounded so direct, so simple. It wasn’t.

-Randy Johnston, former student, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, excerpt from the McKnight Foundation’s 1999 Distinguished Artist Award catalogue

Photo Credit: Randy Johnston

In 1984, Warren married Nancy [Nancy Stevens/Spitzer], a textile artist who notably worked with found materials. They remained married for 30 years until her passing from cancer in 2014. They are also survived by Nancy’s children, Mark Spitzer and Erica Spitzer Rasmussen [Kraig Rasmussen], from her first marriage, and grandson River Rasmussen.

I want to reinforce the sense of traditional values in people. The sense that in our brief tenure on this earth, in spite of the great problems we face there are larger themes, maybe even timeless themes which transcend us. At the same time, I want my pots to express those themes with immediacy and emotional spontaneity.

-Warren MacKenzie as quoted in unpublished notes of Randy Johnston, former student

In 1997 Warren was honored as a Regis Master by Northern Clay Center for his influence on 20th century ceramics. His legacy and impact continues via Northern Clay Center through the Warren MacKenzie Advanced Award, which ensures opportunities for students and emerging artists to continue their ceramic research and education, expanding their professional development.  He was named a Fellow (1982) and received the Excellence in Teaching Award (2002) from of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts; received the Council’s Gold Medal from American Craft Council (1998), and the Distinguished Artist Award from the McKnight Foundation (1999).

Warren MacKenzie is widely regarded as one of the most important potters of our time. Not only is he the best in his field, but he has conducted himself with honesty and integrity. His adherence to those high standards has brought him admirers from around the world… Wherever I go, people say, ‘You’re from Minnesota; you must know Warren MacKenzie.   

-The late Joan Mondale, excerpt from the McKnight Foundation’s 1999 Distinguished Artist Award catalogue

Most recently, in 2011, Warren co-curated Ceramics from the Weisman Art Museum Collection | A Personal View with Weisman Art Museum director, Lyndel King, which aligned with the reopening of the Museum after a major building expansion, and marked the first time an entire Weisman gallery was devoted to the ceramics collection. The two collaborated and built an exhibition from the museum’s collection of ceramic works that were inspiring to them.

MacKenzie’s pots, like Warren himself, function by attraction, not advertisement, Warren’s handmade pottery, functional and beautiful, is in the collection of art museums all over the world, including mine. It is also used every day at the MacKenzie house and at houses all over the world, including mine.

-Lyndel King, Director, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, excerpt from the McKnight Foundation’s 1999 Distinguished Artist Award catalogue

With his wholehearted approach to connecting with clay and evidence of the maker’s hand, Warren MacKenzie demonstrated a pathway for an inspired life as a maker. The culture of clay is forever strengthened by the works, words, and actions/practice of this great man.

While Warren sat at his treadle wheel, he would talk pots and tell a lifetime of stories about Hamada, Leach, Lucie Rie, a specific glaze he never perfected… Witnessing Warren’s love for clay and his passion for pottery’s ability to enrich the lives of those who use pots was motivating to the point I wouldn’t want to do anything but make pots for days. After these visits, I felt energized, intoxicated and passionate for clay and for pots. I laugh now, because Warren was just doing what he loved; when he opened his home and studio door his goal wasn’t to inspire, but inspiration was inescapable for me and for countless others.

-Joe Singewald, potter

In any culture, the needs of the people control the direction of their self-expression. In earlier times, people were directed by their need to find food and to survive. Later they developed belief systems, turning to religion or magic, concerned with gods and goddesses, myths, political power. Artistic expression became a way to support those beliefs, to oppose enemies, to strengthen the culture. I do not believe it is any different in our times.

-Warren MacKenzie, Regis Master lecture, 1997


-Rhonda Willers and Sarah Millfelt, two of his pottery grandchildren, written on behalf of NCECA

Photo Credit: Personal Collection of Randy Johnston
Image Description: (Left to Right) Warren MacKenzie, Ken Matzuzaki (of Japan), Phil Rogers (of Whales), and Randy Johnston, 2008 Anagama Firing called “The Sleeping Pot”




Remembering Doug Baldwin: 1939 – 2018

Remembering Doug Baldwin: 1939 – 2018

Doug Baldwin. Our Doug. Our Duck Man. How can it be that there will be no more red clay ducks in falling from his fingertips? Who will tell the stories of how artists and other peculiar humans behave in all kinds of situations through the metaphor of a few hundred ducks, or a few thousand ducks? Or maybe a million ducks? Doug, you left us too soon with the present stories of our time still needing your narrative. 

Doug’s warmth, humor and keen awareness of the human condition gave voice to so many of us again and again as ducks large, small and in multitudes acted out our experiences.  His Great Duck Pottery School Series speaks to students and makers who have had a life in ceramics, portraying our first sad attempts at throwing bowls and firing kilns. We are able to laugh at ourselves, our teachers and  our colleagues with him, a warm and gentle laugh, a knowing chuckle. We are able to enjoy sports and games not as static sculptural statements, but as immediately engaged participants, and enjoying the familiarity and foibles of ourselves and our fellow humans, even if we are created by Doug Baldwin as just ducks.

Doug was wholeheartedly committed to the studio, making art every day, making the ducks and their environments all the time. But the making was not a solitary pursuit for Doug; it was, like the finished pieces, a shared pursuit.  And sharing that joy of making infused Doug’s life and interactions with everyone he touched. Here in Baltimore, Doug cheerfully, readily, shared the resources, his professional networks and the students of Maryland Institute College of Art with Baltimore Clayworks and scores of other artists and organizations.  He connected institutions by sending  interns to work and learn in community settings. He held gatherings in his home for artists to show images and talk about their work.  Doug not only created communities of ducks, he created communities of artists and students. national and international, united by clay.

Volker Schoenfliess, a Baltimore Clayworks co-founder, sculptor, and head of ceramics at Baltimore School for the Arts remembers, ”He was a kind and quirky influence. I never had him as an instructor, but met him through the clay circuit. I remember the events he held at his Bolton Hill home, and once had the honor of being invited to give a slide presentation of my work there. Thank you Doug.”

A particularly significant collaboration took place in 1992  when three Baltimore institutions-Maryland Institute, Baltimore Clayworks and the Contemporary Museum- joined forces to site Jimmy Clark’s brilliantly curated “Contemporary East European Ceramics” in the former St. Stanislaus Convent.  Doug had travelled extensively in Eastern Europe, and took a special  interest in hosting artists Jindra Vikova (Czech Republic) and Czelaw Podlesny (Poland), involving them with Baltimore’s communities and Maryland Institute students.  This phenomenal exhibition and its programs with the artists were visited by more than 2,500 individuals over a six week period. One Saturday evening Doug called the organizers to let us know that Jindra was hosting a breakfast the next morning in her apartment, and that we must come. When we arrived, we found a beaming Doug seated with Jindra and her husband, Pavel Banka, at the kitchen table with only some paper plates and plastic cups, a  large Braunsweiger sausage, a knife  and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Jindra announced, “We are having a little Viskey Brunch.” Doug with a benevolent smile proudly said, “This was all her idea.” And we joined in!

Encouraging people to move forward with an individual vision, without judgement but with an inclusive spirit was a hallmark of Doug’s teaching and professional interactions. Whether preparing to attend NCECA, frequently in the company of Dennis Parks and Verne Funk, and finding ways to get students to the conference, collaborating on an exhibition with Baltimore Clayworks, or teaching a room full of undergraduate first- time clay students, Doug’s attitude and his stance was to give things a try and see what happens. He would say about most things – “don’t worry too much about technique”.  

Ron Lang, Doug’s colleague and co-conspirator in clay at Maryland Institute framed it this way,  “ He was an inspirational muse for four decades of devoted students at MICA. Doug’s teaching made space for the students to really be themselves and in doing so, he gave them permission to be more authentic and to take bigger risks.”

Kim Robledo, now a program director at Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum in New York, says of her undergraduate years (1991-95) as a ceramics major with Doug, “ Doug always encouraged the possible. I guess when a man spends his clay career making thousands of ducks, he has the power to make you believe there is no idea that clay cannot explore. I thank Doug for giving me this gift as an artist. I also thank him for showing me how to properly eat a Maryland crab.”

Anthony Stellachio, one of Doug’s students and the newly minted Director of Studio Potter and a member of  the  International Academy of Ceramics,  credits Doug with being a major career influence. He says, “Doug Baldwin is one of those people whom I think about and marvel at how my life might have been different without him. He connected me to Eastern Europe, a favorite haunt of his, and that has affected – even defined – my personal and professional life even today.” 

“Doug didn’t do that because he was a larger than life personality who singled me out for my potential and decided to change my life. No, Doug was a humble and quiet man with a generous spirit. He believed in the potential of all of his students, and he did anything he could for them.  Well, he did everything he could for them except give us assignments. In fact, the only instruction he ever gave us as sophomores was to “fill up the table” with work. Doug trusted us, and he thought of us as artists. God bless him, some of us still are. 

Regardless of the influence that Doug had on his students at Maryland Institute and artists here in Baltimore, Doug longed to be in his native Montana and always planned to retire there.  He did just that in 2004, moving close to his daughter Tracy and his grandchildren. That was where he felt grounded and alive. Doug was extremely productive in Montana and made numerous duck- populated pieces about “these Montana woodfiring potters”. He became involved with film and video, using this work as content. Once he called me to talk about The Clay Studio of Missoula, where he found a warm and welcoming community of like-minded makers who were down to earth and accepting. He was clearly at home in Missoula. 

Doug and his ducks will forever remain a singular artistic legacy in the field of ceramics. But more than the actual physical genius of the work he leaves in the world, for those of us who knew and loved him, he leaves behind a legacy of all that is authentic, good and cherished in clay: a lifelong commitment to the studio, inspired and intentional teaching, and a genuine, unselfish impulse to advance the ceramic well being of others. Doug Baldwin set the bar much higher in his time among us. 

December 15, 2018

Deborah Bedwell, ceramic artist

Founding Executive Director, Baltimore Clayworks

Past –President, NCECA (2012-2017)

Remembering Elmer Craig

Remembering Elmer Craig

It doesn’t seem fair.  It never does.  The death of a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor…no matter who it is in our lives the loss is always felt hard and deep.  So was the case with our dear friend, Elmer Craig, who passed away on August 31st in his sleep in Lexington, Kentucky just 12 days shy of his 85th birthday.  To say his passing is sad is indeed an understatement because in Elmer’s life, he embodied the essence of what it means to be a trusted friend, colleague, neighbor, husband, father, and brother.  In short, Elmer was a quality human being.

Elmer Craig in his studio at Eastern Kentucky University

Elmer Craig, originally from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, devoted his life to his family, students, colleagues, and the arts … in particular, the ceramic arts.  After earning his BA from Ball State University and then an MA from Western Michigan University, Elmer began a long teaching career that started in the high school ranks and ended at Miami Dade College North Campus in Miami, Florida where he was a Professor of Art for 27 years.  After retiring from a career in teaching, Elmer, together with his wife, Jane Seyler, a pediatrician, moved to Lexington, Kentucky where Jane continued her work at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine.  As luck would have it, for both Elmer and me, he was invited to serve as the resident ceramic artist in the Department of Art & Design at Eastern Kentucky University.  For seven years we worked together in the ceramics area, furthering our long relationship as friends and colleagues in clay.

While I had always known Elmer in south Florida as both a colleague and friend, it was this last seven years that cemented my understanding and appreciation of him not only as a person with great artistic skills, but also as a communicator.  Although upon his arrival I had already been teaching for over 25 years, my last seven years in the classroom, with Elmer at my side, taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  His daily interactions with students, his sensitivity to their needs, his willingness to extend himself beyond what is expected, his gentle nature and warm smile, always made everyone around him feel both comfortable and secure.  He never imposed himself on others and quietly worked himself into our lives in ways that allowed us all to realize he was far more than a teacher.  Elmer was not only my friend, he had become the friends of my students and colleagues.  He was respected, loved, and cherished by us all, and while his passing will be felt long into the future, the memories we all share of our association with him will live longer than the pain of experiencing his loss.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention Elmer’s love for ‘all things education’, which includes international travel (he was the recipient of a Fulbright teaching exchange in England and worked on projects in China and Guatemala).He also was a great devotee of expanding his knowledge through workshops and lectures, and most importantly, NCECA.  He was devoted to the NCECA family and its efforts to promote educational opportunities to young students entering the field.  To this end, I would like to make an appeal to anyone reading this who knew Elmer and loved him as we do by encouraging you to make a donation in honor of his memory to NCECA’s Fund for Artistic Development. NCECA has established this fund to support young talents and causes that were dear to Elmer’s heart including fellowships to support research beyond academia, international residencies, and special initiatives. I know for sure that Elmer would have embraced these causes, especially realizing how it further supports his love for education and our next generation of ceramic artists. Elmer’s legacy of helping others is something we all want to preserve, both in his name and through our love for someone who left an indelible impression on everyone he knew.  Elmer Craig, our dear friend and colleague in clay, will most definitely be missed but never forgotten.

Remembering Paulus Berensohn (1933-2017)

Remembering Paulus Berensohn (1933-2017)

It may be that the craft arts have become so important these last several decades because we have lost our imagination for a living reciprocity with earth. We need to reimagine the reality of that connection. Putting hands-on helps.

~ Paulus Berensohn

Paulus Berensohn, 2010 film still from Fetzer Institute

From the age of about four, Paulus Berensohn knew that he wanted to dance. Initially, his parents resisted until a close friend admonished his mother, “But Edith, to dance is to spring from the hand of God!” While it may seem unlikely that Paulus himself could remember this exchange so vividly, the moment features large in his personal coming of age story.  Described as the incident that led to Paulus’s first art lesson, passionate advocacy for art’s transformative power remained a central theme throughout his life’s work.

Paulus Berensohn, ca. 1954

Growing up in New York City’s East Village and Greenwich Village, Berensohn attended experimental and preparatory schools before being admitted to Yale University. He studied there only for a few days prior to withdrawing and returning to New York. On the advice of a friend in the city, he travelled to Vermont and enrolled at Goddard College where he remained about a year. Once more returning to New York, Berensohn enrolled briefly at Columbia University before auditioning for the dance department of the prestigious Julliard School. Despite his less than rigorous technical preparation and formal training as compared to other candidates, young Paulus earned a spot. Finding the conservatory model of Julliard too rigid, Berensohn subsequently transferred to Bennington College, which although a women’s school at the time, was recruiting for male dancers. At Bennington, Berensohn not only continued his work in dance, he also immersed himself in literature courses with several of the college’s leading writers including the poet Howard Nemerov. His final choreography project in school was selected for a performance at New York’s 92nd Street Y and received a positive review in the New York Times. However, a mentor whose critical recommendation on the piece Berensohn decided not to incorporate, gave him a failing mark in his final term, and he never received a degree from the college despite the support of other faculty members.

Returning once more to New York, Berensohn became immersed in the city’s burgeoning experimental dance and theater scene, while also studying and working with Merce Cunningham and members of his company. One Sunday in the company of these friends, Paulus visited the Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point, New York. An intentional community and haven for artists founded in 1954 by graduates and former faculty of Black Mountain College including M.C. Richards, David Tudor, John Cage, and others, while wandering the Gate Hill grounds, Paulus came upon the workshop of Karen Karnes. Quietly observing her concentration and coordination of mind, body, and breath, the course of Berensohn’s life shifted. “I stood there and watched Karen from the back, sitting on her old Italian kick wheel where the wheel head was to her left. The first thing I saw her do was to pull up a cylinder of clay and at the same time lengthen her spine. And then—this was what got me—she reached for her sponge in the slip bucket, picked up the sponge, without taking her eyes off the cylinder, and squeezed some slip onto her work. The gesture of sightless reaching her hand made was elegant and inevitable. I thought, that’s a dance to learn.” Much later, Berensohn elaborated meta-cognitively on the memory, “What happened was a desire to de-professionalize my interest in art… As much as I admired the technical brilliance of my colleagues, I am very interested in the behavior of art rather than the achievement of art. I see all the arts as apprenticeships for the big art of our lives.”

That day was auspicious for another reason. Paulus met Karnes’s studio-mate M.C. Richards, who was also teaching clay classes at Greenwich House Pottery and City College. Richards encouraged Paulus to enroll in a workshop she was about to teach at the Haystack Mountain School in Maine. It was a pivotal time for Richards, who not long before, had left Black Mountain College to resettle at Stony Point. On her way to Haystack that summer, she had stopped in Connecticut for a lecture sponsored by the Wesleyan Potters Guild. It was this talk and the response that followed that led Richards to committing ideas on which she had been ruminating for some time into the book Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (1963).

M.C. Richards, ca. 1950

The sense of connection between Berensohn and Richards developed with great and fluent immediacy. She was 17 years his senior and he likened the ease, flow, and meaningfulness of their conversations about creation to being engaged in a choreographic experience. That summer at Haystack set a path of poetic and creative inquiry through clay, writing, reading, and teaching that Berensohn would follow for the remainder of his days. At the end of the summer, rather than return to his life in New York as a dancer, Berensohn went to Pendle Hill, a Quaker adult school in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia where he began to teach crafts. Swarthmore College was nearby, and the following year, Berensohn was invited to begin teaching there. The studio at the time was an empty room, and he rallied the woodworking skills of Larry Wilson, a local teen, to help him build potters wheels from diagrams in Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book. Student interest in the studio grew robust, and Berensohn began to produce, exhibit and sell his work. He purchased a farm near Scranton and after four years of teaching at Swarthmore, decided to settle in there to work as an artist. The property came to be known as The Endless Mountains Farm, and Berensohn invited several close friends to live with him there—Larry Wilson, Laurie Graham and their infant daughter Sheligh, lived there for several years and built a gas kiln. Others included the dancer and author Remy Charlip, June Ekman, and Burt Supree, who had been the dance editor of the Village Voice newspaper.

Around that time, Berensohn developed a friendship with Byron Temple and became involved with the Wallingford Potters Guild. Richards, who was living and writing in New York at the time, began to develop a series of experiential hands on workshops for the group that integrated clay, movement, and poetics. In the late 1960s Paulus was invited to Penland through his long-time friend Cynthia Bringle who had been a classmate during his first workshop at Haystack. Over the years they had continued to connect through a women-led kiln building festival that Ann Stannard and Karen Karnes had initiated. (During the early to mid-1960s, the few leaders of kiln building workshops, otherwise excluded participation by women.) Around this time, Berensohn recalls having a dream in which he stuck his hand into the earth and drew out a ball of clay. Blowing on it, it became a bowl. He was also increasingly interested in reading scientific considerations about clay and energy. The image of clay receiving energy, storing energy and transmitting energy captured his imagination. Being a body-oriented person the leap between clay and the body and energy and the body was both natural and profound. After three weeks of teaching with Cynthia at Penland, Berensohn was fully committed to a new, yet very old way of working with clay. These experiences were journaled and captured along with marvelous photographs by True Kelly to ultimately be published in Berensohn’s Finding One’s Way with Clay: Pinched Pottery and the Color of Clay (1974).

Paulus lived for nearly forty years in the Penland community, a home from which he piloted learning experiences and ultimately travelled away from to lead workshops integrating clay, journal making, poetics, and deep ecological thinking at colleges and art centers throughout the United States and abroad. His approach to and work with journal-making inspired Penland’s outreach program in the Mitchell County North Carolina public schools, which has run continuously since 1997. For several years, he also co-led similar workshops at Penland for urban teens from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh that had cross-over with multiple studios there. Along with colleagues at Penland, during these week-long residencies, Berensohn facilitated interactions that co-mingled urban and rural teens. In a time of political, social, and environmental dissonance, Paulus remained committed to the notion that art and connection to the earth were essential to the well-being of all life, the planet, and the human spirit.

Berensohn’s work as an artist and educator focused on restoring the lost harmony between humanity and earth, while combatting alienations of race, gender, and class. He was recognized by the American Craft Council, which elected him to be an honorary fellow, and the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, which awarded him an honorary membership. He was also the recipient of the Distinguished Educator’s Award from the James Renwick Alliance in Washington DC. A film about his life and work, To Spring from the Hand: The Life and Work of Paulus Berensohn, made by Neil Lawrence, was released in 2013. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver wrote about that film, “Paulus Berensohn, whether he’s speaking slowly and thoughtfully as he does, or just smiling, is a gift. With his presence, life takes on a new radiance and energy. He teaches. He shines.”

Paulus Berensohn, photo by Naomi Boyle

Learn more about Berensohn, M.C. Richards and the Endless Mountain Farm at http://www.marywood.edu/galleries/docs/EndlessMountainsSpiritCatalog.pdf

Read the full transcript of Mark Shapiro’s 2009 interview with Paulus Berensohn at https://www.aaa.si.edu/download_pdf_transcript/ajax?record_id=edanmdm-AAADCD_oh_296474

Watch a 10-minute film produced in 2013 by Neil Lawrence on the occasion of Paulus Berensohn’s award as NCECA Honorary Member of the Council https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92YYT9sYZi0

Donations may be made to the following organizations that provided care and support for Paulus.

  • Hospice and Palliative Care of the Blue Ridge, 236 Hospital Drive, Spruce Pine NC 28777.
  • Center for End of Life Transitions, 32 Mineral Dust Drive, Asheville NC 28806. www.ceolt.org.

A memorial celebration of Paulus Berensohn’s life will take place at Penland School of Crafts later this year.



This flat plate. This ladle and bowl.
Clay whirled on a wheel, raised slowly to the table.
Straight and curved, our primal gestures
take and give—speak out about
the way we stand and breathe.
Every leaf is saucer for the bread.
Every falling drop prepares its cup.
Always we are eating and drinking earth’s body,
Making her dishes.
Potters like sun and stars
perform their art—
Endowed with myth,
they make the meal holy.

~M.C. Richards


My first memory of Paulus has lasted 30 years. It was at the beginning of a fall concentration, where he talked, using his body with his mindful posture, his hands gracefully moving in the air as he described the falling of red, orange and brown leaves on the grounds of Penland. He wove the metaphor of red iron oxide to the autumn leaves, tying together how it is used as an oxide in a potter’s glaze, for the passing of time, for the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. 

~ Holly Hanessian


From his habit of walking barefooted to choosing not to fire some of his pinch pots, Paulus often questioned the status-quo. As a teacher, I was deeply influenced by the gentle and inquisitive manner in which he questioned the world around him. His compassion and curiosity will be greatly missed.

                                                                                                                              ~  Chris Staley

Placing Paulus within the framework of the crafts pioneers in America illuminates the culture within which he helped establish the ethic of the crafts movement. Paulus was never at a loss to find the words to inspire those wishing to establish an honest dialog with primary materials. As we look back upon our long personal relationships with him, we are grateful for the way he helped us see our own paths more clearly toward an honest and fulfilling life and career. It’s not a time for sadness, as much as we’ll miss him. He lived his life the way he wanted to, and choreographed the end just the way it happened.

~  Jon Ellenbogen

John Glick Remembered (1938-2017)

John Glick Remembered (1938-2017)

The potter who finds life in his work finds it daily in small glimpses, and perhaps these are the successes as much as anything. For example, shapes evolve guided by forces apparently outside my control. This is instinct, intellect and openness to change fusing, into what I think is the most positive force behind any potter’s approach: evolution or growth. Some call it inspiration. ~ John Glick

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1938, John Glick earned his B.F.A. from Wayne State University (1960), studying under William Pitney, and his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1962), working with Maija Grotell. A legendary and influential teacher, Grotell was noted for her deep interest in the human connection to nature’s rhythms and patterns. These ideas often grounded her dialog with her students including Glick, affecting a profound and lasting influence on his future work. Ideas contained within Glick’s thesis, which was concerned with the interaction of maker and user in functional pottery, continued to inform his studio practice over the next fifty years.

The two years following his departure from Cranbrook were spent in the U.S. Army. Stationed in West Germany near the Westerwald district, a region well-known for salt-glazed pottery, Glick often visited with and studied German potters in their studios. Upon separating from the military, Glick returned to Michigan, to establish a studio and began to work full-time as a potter. In 1965, he opened Plum Tree Pottery in Farmington, Michigan, where he ultimately built three kilns: a 60-cubic-foot catenary arch, a 27-cubic-foot catenary arch, and a 50-cubic-foot sprung-arch cross-draft. Glick began to produce dinnerware, and orders gradually became more consistent. All the while, Glick remained steadfastly committed to creative evolution, guiding his clients toward newer ideas rather than continuing the work he had done in the past.

Over time, he was able to build a substantial portion of his studio practice around the creation of one-of-a-kind settings. This approach struck a sympathetic balance that blended his urge for constant innovation within the utilitarian potter’s commitment to production. Cultivating and sustaining relationships with client-collectors was central to an approach of this nature. Glick’s settings ultimately explored a wide range of form and decoration that combined the user’s decision making with Glick’s personal vision of a set as a varied visual eco-system. In 1979, Glick was commissioned to produce a set of dinnerware for then Vice-President Mondale’s mansion. Consisting of 16 place settings with six elements to each setting, Glick also produced a technical instruction set for the team whose role would include handling the wares and setting the table.

While traditional academic structures have played an important part in the development of American studio pottery, Glick developed an alternative route to sustaining creative regeneration. All innovation entails cognitive transformations that are contingent on active communities of practice. Central to the formation of community in Glick’s life and work were the roles of assistants and his agility as a mentor. Together, they catalyzed the material productivity of the pottery and generated dialog on both creative and practical concerns of the potter’s work. As assistants became more immersed in the work cycle, they sometimes developed substantial portions of vessel production allowing Glick more time to focus on design, decoration, and innovation of processes.

Glick took influences from master potters of Japan, notably Shoji Hamada and Kanjrio Kawai, blending their gestural embellishments of simple forms with attitudes of Abstract Expressionism. He was particularly drawn to the work of Helen Frankenthaler whose soak-stain style resonated with Glick’s multi-layered glaze surfaces, which juxtaposed veils of atmospheric color with gestural marks and pattern. He spent countless hours developing and making his own tools in order to achieve previously unseen results in his work with clay and glaze. Elenor Wilson, Editor of The Studio Potter, worked with Glick in 2006. She shares, “One of the most important values I inherited from John is that of good tools. He spent a great deal of time in his ‘tool shop’ customizing this rib, that brush, fashioning a new extruder die, or adding wheels or hinges to something to improve ergonomics. John considered the knowledge, attitudes, and wisdom passed to him by his teachers to be tools. And, in fact, his pots are tools. Tools for eating, drinking, contemplating; for looking, for learning, for enjoying life.”

Glick’s work was nationally and internationally exhibited. Notable exhibitions include Craft in America: Expanding Traditions, a national invitational touring exhibition that visited eight cities in two years. A retrospective exhibition opened at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Spring 2016. His work is held in numerous collections, both public and private, including The Mint Museum, The American Craft Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Renwick Gallery, and the Museum of Art in Yixing, P.R. China. He was also the recipient of several prestigious awards, among them two individual artist fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and election as an American Craft Council Fellow.

You could say I am hopelessly in love with bits and pieces of the making of pots…

Robin Hopper Remembered

Robin Hopper Remembered

Robin Hopper Remembered (1939-2017)

Internationally accomplished potter, teacher, author, garden designer, and arts activist, Robin Hopper passed away on April 6, 2017. The potter’s art is one of the few in which the connection between creator and appreciator is so intimate and integral. The process of creation, the resulting object, and its use by others represent a unique interrelationship, too seldom explored. If not for multi-faceted, generous, and curious imaginations, like Mr. Hopper’s, the potter’s work would be a lonelier and more narrow calling than it is today.

Robin’s personality and style were larger than life, and his heart was soft and sweet. He was passionate about his art, his garden, and sharing his experience and knowledge. Robin could be gruff and rude. He was impatient with carelessness and negligence. His style could be curt and abrupt but this was his way of cutting to the chase and getting to the point. “Why beat around the bush?” was one of his mantras. In the midst of Robin’s apparently unforgiving demeanor was a deep understanding of the human spirit. He knew how to bring out the best in everyone who would interact with him. Robin’s engine was a heart of gold, a kindness of unsurpassed wealth and empathy beyond appreciation. ~ Steven Branfman

Born in England in 1939, Hopper’s childhood memories of the bombing of London were vividly recounted in a 2011 NCECA closing lecture in Tampa, Florida. He studied at Croydon College of Art (1956-1961) and later developed studios in both England and Canada, where he immigrated in 1968. After teaching for two years at Central Technical School in Toronto, he established and headed the Ceramics and Glass Department at Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario. In 1972 he resigned from teaching to devote full energies to his work in ceramics.

In 1977, he moved to Victoria, British Columbia where he established and ran the ’Chosin Pottery Gallery with his wife, Judi Dyelle. That same year, he was honored as the first recipient of the Bronfman Award, Canada’s most prestigious annual award in the crafts. Surrounding his studio and home, Hopper and his wife also dedicated themselves to horticulture and garden design. Their Anglojapanadian Garden at ’Chosin Pottery has been featured in books, several television programs, and many magazines. His dedication to craftsmanship extended far beyond the walls of his studio, gallery, and beloved flora. A prolific author, Hopper’s books include The Ceramic Spectrum (2008), Functional Pottery (2000), Staying Alive (2003), Making Marks (2008), a revised edition of Daniel Rhodes’ Clay and Glazes for the Potter (2000), and his autobiography, Robin Hopper Ceramics: A Lifetime of Works, Ideas and Teaching (2007). His eBook, A Potter’s Garden – An Artist’s Approach to Creative Garden-Making (2014) illustrates his award-winning garden and discusses the influences and inspiration that it has had on his pottery.

Hopper taught throughout Canada, the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, China, Korea, Japan, and Israel. His work is in public, corporate, and private collections throughout the world. He is an Honorary Member of NCECA and is also the Founding President Emeritus of the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts (1984).

Deeply and expansively engaged as a maker, researcher, writer, and mentor, Hopper’s creative, and intellectual rigor helped impact thousands learning a complex art form in a meaningful way, on a global basis. He was also committed to the message that the craftsman and artist can make a good living in a chosen field. As an artist, he remained committed to understanding the nature and limitations of materials and process through painstaking and innovative methods. After receiving a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer in 2015, he wrote to a friend, “Right now I’m about halfway through compiling a 3000 name Botanical Latin inventory of plants that are in my 2.5 acre garden! I have a whole list of other things to get done before I croak, hopefully concluding with a tongue in cheek obituary to keep people smiling as they set my cold, dead toes on fire! WARM FEET AT LAST!” In response to his diagnosis, Robin set about to produce Swansong, a video including stories, music, and images whose proceeds are being used to benefit research and treatment of pediatric cancer and arts programming for school-aged youth. On November 18, 2016, in a ceremony at Government House in Victoria, British Columbia, Hopper was invested into the Royal Order of Canada.

Mr. Hopper’s imagination and gifts as a communicator have made him a global, creative citizen. As a child of London bombings during World War II, his own life journey and story of resilience have served to inspire others. Alongside the undeniable beauty of his work, Mr. Hopper’s humanity, humility, and generosity have been a gift to the world.