Susan Harnly Peterson: A Legend-A Legacy 1925-2009

Ceramics Art & Perception, June-September 2009 | Go to article overview

Susan Harnly Peterson: A Legend-A Legacy 1925-2009


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SUSAN HARNEY PETERSON, CERAMIC ARTIST, WRITER, AND professor passed away at home in Scottsdale, Arizona US on March 26, 2009 after a long illness. Born in 1925 in McPherson, Kansas she was the daughter of Iva, a painter and Paul Harnly, an educator. She was the valedictorian of 1943 senior class of Grand Island, Nebraska Senior High School. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California in 1946, taught at Punahou School in Honolulu and then went to the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, New York to complete her MFA in Ceramics. She met and married Jack L. Peterson, a ceramics engineer, while there.

She began teaching ceramics first at Whittier Union High School in California and later at Chouinard Art Institute (1952-1955). At Chouinard, she created an Alfred-style curriculum, covering a wide spectrum of processes. In 1952 she hosted a three-week workshop with Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi. Hamada made pots, Leach talked and made pots, and Yanagi lectured daily on the folk arts of the world. Then for 23 years she taught at the University of Southern California where Ken Price and John Mason were her students. Throughout that time, she lived in South Pasadena, California. From 1956-1985 Peterson taught at Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA) each summer. She continued her life as an educator at Hunter College in New York City where she built a ceramics department, retiring from teaching in 1994.

Peterson travelled extensively throughout her lifetime. She was an advocate for ceramic arts throughout the United States and the world. In 1964 she attended the first World Craft Conference held at Columbia University and met many international artists. She gave workshops and lectures over many years in Japan, Australia, India, China, Sweden, England and throughout the United States. She brought well known foreign ceramic artists to work and teach in the United States.

She produced 54 half-hour segments of television programs called Wheels, Kilns and Clay for CBS-KNXT. She helped establish many studios and programs to assist artists including ceramic departments at Chouinard, USC and Hunter, ISOMATA, Clayworks Studio Workshop in New York City, and the Appalachian Centre for Crafts. In 1997 she curated Legacy of Generations, Pottery by American Indian Women for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

She began her writing career in 1974 with a book on potter Shoji Hamada, a living treasure of Japan. Next came books on two important American Indian potters, Maria Martinez and Lucy Lewis. …

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