ASU’s Ceramics Research Center

Arizona State University has a “Ceramics Research Center” on it’s Tempe, AZ campus. I reached out to Amanda Urrea, Communications Program Coordinator at the ASU Art Museum to ask her some questions. (A special call-out to Amanda – she finished these responses just as she was heading out on maternity leave.)

JW: What types of ceramic research is conducted at the ASU Ceramic Research Center? 

AU: We have an extensive archive collection at the Ceramics Research Center. We have collections from Susan H Peterson, Don Reitz, Herbert Sanders and the Studio Potter Publication and original materials. We have curators, researchers, writers and students that come from all over the US to use these primary sources to aid in their publications, curatorial research and student dissertations. For those who can’t come to the physical space, we have people reach out globally to have materials scanned and digitized for their research.

An example of research using the archives:

Koki Tanka and Kumie Tsuda are the first visual artists to work with the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramic Research Center archives, specifically focusing on the archive of artist and historian Susan Peterson. Both artists were influenced by the correspondence between Peterson and Japanese ceramic artist Shōji Hamada. Sifting through ephemera, photography and film, Tanaka has created a new experimental video titled “Mashiko, Arizona,” based on the relationship between Peterson and Hamada.

JW: What is your source of funding?

AU: Like most museums in the US, our sources of funding come from a diverse set of revenue streams that include government, foundation, individual contributions and some earned income. We heavily rely on individuals and foundations to support the important work of stewardship of the collections and presentation of new art.

JW:  I read that the majority of the CRC’s permanent collection is accessible to people in open storage. What’s involved in accessing that part of the collection as a member of the public? 

AU: One of the unique spaces at the Ceramics Research Center is the open storage. It is available all year round and open for view to the public. We have over 800 objects in the space to view. This is about 20% of the ceramic collection. We have handouts to use as you walk through the space identifying the artists and object information. The open storage objects are placed chronologically starting with the 1950’s to current.

JW: Is any portion of the CRC collection accessible online?  Are there plans to expand that offering? 

AU: You can view works from a past traveling exhibition, “Innovation and Change,” the most comprehensive selection of works from the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center collection: https://asuartmuseum.asu.edu/collections/ceramics 

[Note: the images you have to click to see the works are located in a thin horizontal line when I view this site. Click somewhere on the line and a pop-up viewer will appear with larger images that you can scroll through.]

With a major grant from the Virginia G. Piper Foundation, we are currently in phase one of digitizing highlights of the museum’s permanent collection. Our goal for the next phase is to make these digital images available through our website, the ASU Library and in teaching tools.

There are also images online from our Susan H. Peterson Archive Collection. Susan Harnly Peterson (1925-2009) was a world-renowned ceramic artist, writer and professor. Her book publications include: Shoji Hamada: A Potter’s Way and Work, the Craft and Art of Clay, and The Living Tradition of Maria Martinez. A selection of these archives from these artists are here: https://asuartmuseum.asu.edu/research-and-initiatives/ceramics-research-archive/images-from-our-susan-harnly-peterson-ceramic-research-archives 

We are actively exploring grant opportunities as the next phase of the archives is the digitization of the materials so they can be accessible online, providing global access to technical, critical and historical information.

Our library collection houses over 3,000 titles of rare exhibition catalogues, books, periodicals and media. The collection includes personal library collections of Susan Peterson, Ralph Bacerra, Harry Dennis and James & Nan McKinnell. You can access our library database online: https://www.librarything.com/catalog/ASUCRC 

JW: Is the CRC collection integrated in any way with academic programming at ASU? 

AU: The Ceramics Research Center has a close relationship with the students at the School of Art. Faculty bring their classes in to sketch, utilize the classroom for lectures, collaborate projects with their students and the curator and take advantage of our programming. The Ceramics Research Center also mentors academic interns coming from a diverse range of majors (not just fine arts).

JW: I read in the ASU Art Museum’s strategic plan that one strategy to enhance experience is to “launch a workshop as an interactive makerspace in the museum and Ceramics Research Center.” What does that mean? 

AU: A laboratory for discovery, the Artists’ Workshop facilitates a deeper understanding of the exhibitions on view. Workshop is an on-site art activity space that allows visitors to “learn by doing,” creating art projects inspired by a diverse array of themes and issues. It includes digital tools and resources with information about the exhibitions, including artist images, art games, art blogs, documentaries and other relevant information. 

JW: What are the highlights of the CRC that you would like people to be aware of?

AU: The Ceramics Research Center has been a national and international destination point for the hands-on study and enjoyment of ceramics since it’s opening in March 2002. The center, which houses and displays the ASU Art Museum’s extensive ceramic collection, serves as a key educational component of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts through its teaching and research facilities. The combination of gallery space and open storage at the Ceramics Research Center enables visitors to enjoy part of our extensive collection at one time.

Every year, the Ceramics Research Center features three to five exhibitions on important movements and artists who have made significant contributions in the ceramics field. The holdings demonstrate the full range of technique, aesthetic approaches and possibilities within the medium.

Our archive collection is one of the most important archives in the ceramic field. Susan Peterson was a ceramist and educator whose research, writing and advocacy brought wider appreciation to clay. She traveled and lectured worldwide, and authored numerous books on ceramic techniques, glazes and ceramic artists. 

The Ceramics Research Center also holds the significant ceramic archives from The Studio Potter magazine, which document 30 years of creative activity in the field. Founded in 1972, the Studio Potter magazine, under Gerry Williams’ editorial vision, was at the forefront of offering insightful writings on technology, criticism, aesthetics and history within the ceramics community. An intrepid traveler, Williams, along with his wife Julie, amassed a trove of oral histories, transcribed interviews, photographs and journals. Many artists in the archive are represented in ASU Art Museum’s collection. The archives allow access to technical, critical and historical information for students, collectors, museum curators and scholars worldwide.

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