John Stephenson, October 27, 1929 – October 20, 2015
NCECA was saddened to learn of John Stephenson’s passing and moved by this memorial provided by Paul Kotula which studiopottery.co.uk reproduce below.
“It is with sincere sadness I announce the passing of John Stephenson, a Michigan sculptor and educator whose life and work helped transform the field of contemporary ceramics nationally and internationally. Locally, he was the nucleus of an ever expanding and altering community of Michigan artists and educators working in clay. As Professor and Head of Ceramics at the University of Michigan for over 35 years, Stephenson gifted numerous students with his intelligent and probing knowledge. He had a deep respect for education and the role of the artist in society. Stephenson actively shared enthusiasm for all art forms and creative individuals. He also made Ann Arbor home to many important artists and events. In 1967, during the campus-wide “Voices of Civilization” celebration, Stephenson hosted the internationally renowned ceramist Shoji Hamada. In 1980, Stephenson co-hosted the annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts.
As an artist, John Stephenson formed a vast and highly personal foray into abstraction. He generated forms that were then unknown within ceramics’ extensive history. In doing so, Stephenson engineered innovative technical systems to secure structures non-reliant on volume or to play mass against volume. His surfaces denied ceramics’ common poetics. Stephenson often presented terse, sometimes even sour-colored, thickly applied skins of slip and glaze that not only shifted the perception of his forms but also heralded new painterly concerns. While his work was astutely formal, it was not without content. Over the years his work penetrated political and social issues. Stephenson had great concern for the environment, and much of the work venerated nature’s beauty and power while simultaneously revealing its eminent vulnerability.
A student of the legendary Maija Grotell at Cranbrook Academy of Art (MFA 1958), John Stephenson exhibited nationally and internationally in solo, two-person, and group exhibitions since the beginning of his career. His work is included in such prestigious collections as the Museum of Art and Design, NY; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Faenza Museum, Italy; Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague; Icheon World Ceramic Center, South Korea; Keramion Museum, Germany; Foshan/Nanfeng Museum, PR China; Benaki Museum, Athens; Portland Museum of Art, OR; Cranbrook Academy of Art, MI; Parish Museum of Art, NY; Alfred University, NY; and Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. His awards include an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and an American Craft Council Fellow award. Stephenson was also an honorary member of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts and served on the board of Pewabic Pottery, Detroit.
John Stephenson, who served as the Interim Dean of the School of Art, University of Michigan, from 1991 to 1993, was awarded the Catherine B. Heller Distinguished Professorship in 1995. He also received an honorary Doctorate of Arts from Grand Valley State University. John Stephenson has greatly influenced many generations of his students who have subsequently become noted artists and educators across the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii.
John Stephenson’s commitment to the international community includes forging connections between China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Along with his wife and artist Susanne, John traveled extensively in Asia. He was a member of the International Academy of Ceramics.
I fondly remember working with John as I represented his work at the Swidler Gallery and Revolution in Detroit. I also assisted with his retrospective at the University of Michigan Museum Of Art. John was a quiet man with an enormous presence, one whose heart was ever generous. He will be greatly missed by many.
John Stephenson is survived by his wife Susanne, daughter Tara Nahabetian, son-in-law Dennis, and grandchildren Charlie and Emma.”
(A celebration of John Stephenson’s life will be held at the University of Michigan League Ballroom on December 5, 2015, at 11:00 AM)
Works above (top to bottom):
Under Tow | 2003 | 16.5″ht x 14″ x 19″
Connect Six #2 | 2002 | 13″ht x 13″ x 13.25″ | Benaki Museum, Athens, Greece