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Peter Held to retire after 11 years as ASU Art Museum curator of ceramics

portrait of Peter Held, curator of ceramics for ASU Art Museum
June 17, 2014

Peter Held, curator of ceramics for the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center, will retire from his position at the end of the month. During his 11-year tenure with the museum, Held shaped the future of the internationally-renowned center and its collection.

Held’s impressive career includes the curation of over 100 exhibitions, including seven national traveling ceramics shows. He is the author of numerous articles on contemporary art and crafts, and is the editor and essayist of 10 books.

“My tenure at Arizona State University these last 11 years has been truly astonishing," Held said. "Working with engaged colleagues and faculty members, energized students, talented artists, writers and researchers, and generous collectors and patrons has given me a solid platform to carry out my work. Every day there was something new to learn, and that never diminished for me over the years.

"The success I have achieved is due, in large part, to a passionate community of supporters who believed, as I do, in the possibility that art can transform and enrich our lives.”

“In 11 short years, Peter has transformed an excellent yet modest collection of American ceramics into the best assembly of post-war American ceramics in the world; and he did so by growing and activating that archive – integrating the collection into the ethos and mission of the university by converting a collection into a world-class and highly active research center,” said Gordon Knox, ASU Art Museum director. “On behalf of the museum, the university and the ceramics field in general, we are deeply grateful for Peter's tireless effort, compassionate support of the field, and solid contributions to research and to the advancement of the ceramic arts.”

Held joined the museum in 2003 following a distinguished career as both an artist and museum administrator. He received his bachelor’s degree in studio art from the State University of New York at Brockport. Upon graduation, he moved to Helena, Montana, to become a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (1974-1976). He later completed a master’s degree in museum administration at Oregon State University and interned at the Portland Art Museum in the Asian Art Department. He returned to Helena in 1994 to serve as executive director and curator of the Holter Museum of Art, where he successfully led a $2.3 million capital and endowment campaign.

During his tenure at the ASU Art Museum, Held spearheaded a series of retrospective and mid-career exhibitions focusing on the work of artists broadening and enhancing the field of contemporary ceramics – including such exhibitions as "Between Clouds of Memory: Akio Takamori, A Mid-Career Survey" (2005), "Following the Rhythms of Life: The Ceramic Art of David Shaner" (2007), "Eden Revisited: The Ceramic Art of Kurt Weiser" (2009), "Wanxin Zhang: A Ten Year Survey" (2010), "A Chosen Path: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes" (2011) and "Infinite Place: The Ceramic Art of Wayne Higby" (2013).

Under Held’s leadership, the museum’s ceramics collection increased by over 25 percent, adding more than 1,000 objects to its existing holdings. Despite limited acquisition funds, Held diversified the collection greatly, transforming it from being largely vessel-oriented to a broader picture of the full spectrum of the work being done in the contemporary ceramics field. Held took great care to develop relationships with collectors both locally and nationally, and presented numerous exhibitions of new acquisitions to the collection – notably, "Shared Passion: Sara and David Lieberman Collection of Contemporary Ceramics and Craft" (2003), "British Ceramic Masterworks: Highlights from the Anne and Sam Davis Collection" (2004) and "A Ceramic Legacy: Selections from the Stéphane Janssen and R. Michael Johns Collection" (2006).

In 2013, Held worked alongside the ASU Art Museum’s Heather Sealy Lineberry, associate director and senior curator, and Windgate Curatorial Fellow Elizabeth Kozlowski for the landmark exhibition "Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft." The exhibition and its accompanying catalog, lauded by the American Craft Council as one of the most monumental of the year, provided an international perspective on modern and contemporary crafts and the current level of innovation and experimentation in material studies.

In addition to his curatorial projects, Held counts his experiences with numerous university faculty, students and interns as some of the most rewarding aspects of his time at ASU. In March 2014, he was awarded two of the highest accolades possible within the field of ceramic education: the Smithsonian’s James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Educator Award and the National Council for Education on the Ceramic Arts Honorary Member Award. The ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Peter Held received the 2007 CLAY Award (Ceramic Lifetime Achievement Award) from the Friends of Contemporary Ceramics, the leading organization of ceramic collectors, art dealers and curators in the United States. The award is given for lifetime achievement in advancing the field.

Following his retirement, Held plans to pursue independent curatorial and research projects. He will continue to remain close to ASU. His final exhibition for the museum prior to his retirement, "These Are Some of My Favorite Things," will open July 19 at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard Gallery and Ceramics Research Center.