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Renowned scholar and educator Susan Harnly Peterson dies at 83

April 01, 2009

Susan Harnly Peterson was a world-renowned ceramic artist, writer and professor.

Following a long illness, Susan Harnly Peterson passed away at home in Scottsdale, Ariz. on March 26, 2009. She is survived by her children Jill Hoddick, Jan Peterson, Taag Peterson and seven grandchildren. A memorial service is planned for May 9, 2009, on the ASU Tempe campus, with a reception following at the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center.

In 2002, the Susan Harnly Peterson Ceramic Research Archives at the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center was established. Much of her expansive personal collection of books, slides, lecture notes and pottery is available for artists, students and scholars to study. Harnly Peterson also received the Herberger College Distinguished Achievement Award in 1999.

Born in 1925 in McPherson, Kan., she graduated from Mills College in Oakland, Calif., in 1946, taught at Punahou School in Honolulu and then went to the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, N.Y. to complete her MFA in ceramics. While there, she met and married her husband, Jack L. Peterson, a ceramic engineer.

From the 1950s until her retirement in 1994, Peterson followed an academic career as well as an artistic one. She began teaching ceramics first at Whittier Union High School in California and later at Chouinard Art Institute (1952–55), and then for 23 years at the University of Southern California (USC). Throughout that time she lived in South Pasadena, Calif. 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, retiring from teaching in 1994.

Peterson influenced the lives of countless students and artists throughout the world and leaves a legacy of ceramic education and passion for the arts. Her former students comprise a virtual Who’s Who of American ceramic masters that includes John Mason, Ken Price and Beatrice Wood. She also helped establish many studios and programs to assist artists including ceramic departments at the Appalachian Center for Crafts, Chouinard, the Clayworks Studio Workshop in New York City, Hunter, ISOMATA and USC.

Peterson traveled extensively throughout her lifetime and became 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 did workshops and gave lectures over many years in countries as diverse as Australia, China, England, India Japan, Sweden and throughout the U.S., where she brought well-known foreign ceramic artists to work and teach. In 1997, she curated Legacy of Generations, Pottery by American Indian Women for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., which helped to promote Native American ceramic traditions.

Peterson is the most widely published author of works on ceramics in the U.S. Her fascination with every aspect of the creative process involved in ceramics has led to more than 14 publications that document the lives and work of influential ceramists or show in detail the techniques used from selection of clay to the last firing. Her books are, in many cases, the definitive source in the field. She began her writing career in 1974 with a book on potter Shoji Hamada, a living treasure of Japan, followed by two books on important American Indian potters, Maria Martinez and Lucy Lewis. The Martinez book was the best-selling art publication in 1978 and won the Cowboy Hall of Fame award for the Best Western Art Book of the Year. The Craft and Art of Clay, published in five languages in 1990, was followed by several other college texts on ceramics. She was in the process of completing the 5th edition of The Craft and Art of Clay at the time of her death.

An artist herself, Peterson created a series of 54, half-hour television programs for CBS-KNXT in Los Angeles during 1967–68. The Wheels, Kilns & Clay show allowed her to demonstrate processes and techniques in creating ceramic art. The program initially aired live and was taped for later broadcast. Copies of the shows currently can be found at the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center.

She was given many distinctions and awards throughout her career. Peterson received Knight of Order of the Lion of Finland in 1969, followed by becoming a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 1983. She received the Hunter College President’s Award for Creativity from Dr. Donna Shalala in 1985. In 1996, the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award and the same year she received the New York State Governor’s Award. The Charles Fergus Binns medal was awarded by the School of Art and Design, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1998.

Memorial contributions to support the Susan Harnly Peterson Archives at Arizona State University can be made to ASU Foundation, ASU Art Museum, P.O. Box 872911, Tempe, AZ, 86287, attention Peter Held, Curator of Ceramics. Please include with all gifts “For Susan Harnly Peterson Archive.” To make a gift to the Susan Harnly Peterson Archive via credit card, please visit: and click “Invest Now.”

Lattie F. Coor Hall, #170 on the ASU Tempe campus. A reception follows at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center, on the northeast corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street in Tempe.

May 9, 2 p.m.


Public Contact
Diane Wallace
ASU Art Museum

The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America, is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. The museum is located on the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street in Tempe and admission is free. Hours are 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Tuesdays (during the academic year), 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and closed on Sundays and Mondays. To learn more about the museum, call 480.965.2787 or

Media Contact:
Diane Wallace
ASU Art Museum