Part 2: June 18, 1997, with George Hofmann and Caroline Ash, New York, New York.
TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE
GH: We’re here in New York City with Susan Peterson. It’s George Hofmann…
CA: Caroline Ash.
GH: It’s June 18, 1997, and we’re starting from USC in California, 19…
GH: Okay. Here we go.
SP: So I was brought to USC by Don Goodall to build a ceramic department, even though USC had had a ceramic department since the beginning of the university, and Glen Lukens had been there 30 40 years teaching ceramics. But Lukens didn’t ever do anything but grind up rocks from the desert to make glaze, and hand build. So there weren’t any potter’s wheels and there was no equipment in this department. There were kindergarten tables and kindergarten stools and a three cubic foot electric kiln, and that’s how they were teaching ceramics and giving a masters degree, graduate degree. So I had a whole department to build, and we had to acquire more space. There wasn’t enough space. So we finally added…we usurped the sculpture department. They moved the sculpture department to the old band uniform storage building, and I got the whole wing of the art department that had been sculpture, which was quite a big department at USC at that time. So it was a lot of space, and then I got what had been the ceramic space. So eventually we had a BFA program in ceramics with 70 credits in ceramics out of 124 credit Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. So that students took a little art history, a little painting and a lot of ceramics. So undergraduate…
GH: Was there a ground swell interest in ceramics at that point?
SP: Los Angeles had 400 small potteries. In other words there was employment possibility in small studio kind of small production potteries. Since what I had done at Chouinard had caused…so in southern California there was not only a possible vocational aspect, but we had started a program at Chouinard that brought GIs in the art school into clay, and Peter Voulkos had landed in our laps, an Otis artist. Voulkos was in 1952 or 1953 came to Los Angeles at Otis. He was winning all the prizes in the ceramic competition in the country, and was becoming very well known as a clay artist even in those days. Today he’s maybe the best known ceramic artist in the world, but at that time he was beginning, but he was already a fireball. So in the couple of years that I had been at Chouinard, this swell in southern California ceramics was developing.
SP: And the dean, this Don Goodall, who was the best dean about that I ever saw, he was really a forward looking fellow who eventually went to Texas as the head of the department there.
GH: At Austin?
SP: At Austin. But he understood that there was a real need for ceramic education in southern California. When I went in 1950 to southern California, the only ceramic teaching institutions were Scripps College and UCLA. Though we had maybe 27 community colleges and other senior colleges in the Los Angeles area, nobody to speak of was teaching ceramics as we had had it with Glen Lukens. UCLA had had it and Scripps had had it, but they were small kind of hand building mud hen type departments. They were really not professionally done. But that was because later on I learned, finally it dawned on me, the East Coast and the West Coast were totally different in terms of clay. Maybe they were also in terms of all kinds of art, but definitely because the East Coast was settled by the Europeans who brought a ceramic culture to this country on the East Coast, it never got past the Mississippi River, it didn’t even get past Ohio really, the University of Ohio had a ceramic department and Alfred had a ceramic department. But clay just didn’t go over there at the other coast except for American Indian and Mexican and Spanish. So when I went to school at Mills, I think I said that on the other tape, Carlton Ball built the first potters wheel west of the East Coast.
SP: And taught throwing and taught other people how to throw before anybody else in the west was doing it. I brought stoneware and porcelain to the West Coast because it was an urbanware, low fire, Indian, Mexican kind of ware that everybody had, including Lukens, had been doing out there. So this was really the pioneering time for clay in southern California, and it was this one right here, and Pete Voulkos. When he started the Otis program, we were the ones who built…Peter knew high temperature because he had been in Montana at the Archie Bray Foundation, and one of my Alfred colleagues had gone out to teach industrial design at Boseman, and had met Peter and introduced him to Alfred, the New York State College of Ceramic Glazes and Clays, and therefore though he fired in Archie Brays’ brick plant, he knew high temperatures. So when he came to LA, we were both on the same wavelength as far as the art, the clay art was concerned, so we were both doing this. I had already built the kilns. I built at Chouinard the high temperature kilns, and my husband had designed the potter’s wheels, so my husband at that time, Jack Peterson, and then we gave that information to Voulkos, so he put that in there, so that by the time I get to SC, this groundwork has been laid.
GH: Laid. Right.
SP: And with the program that we started there, with the graduate program, which we eventually had thirty graduates per year, and we had 50 undergraduate BFA majors, per year. So now we’re turning out like rabbits, ceramic educated people…
GH: Huge, yes.
SP: Who then went to teach in the community colleges around, or who became studio artists. In the case of John Mason, for instance, my assistant at Chouinard, and Kenny Price, who went with me from Chouinard to SC, and graduated from SC, they became studio artists. They didn’t become professors. And a lot of the people that we turned out in those days didn’t go into teaching, they went to do their work. And there was a market. There were galleries. There had actually always been galleries, because Lukens was well known, even though he was grinding up agates from the desert and putting them on the ceramics, he was developing colors at low temperature. So the West Coast, even in pottery manufacturing, was very big in color.
SP: And Lukens was part of that background. So it wasn’t that we had nothing there, but what we brought was a different treatment to clay. Okay, so at SC…
GH: So you’re there…
SP: At Chouinard I had brought Hamada and Leach, and I think I talked about that, and then later at SC I brought Hamada again.
GH: And Soetsu.
SP: Soetsu Yanagi, he was the protege of Suzuki Sensei in Zen, and he became the exponent of what was called Mingei, a Zen aesthetic, and…
GH: He was the protege of who?
SP: Suzuki Sensei, who is the philosopher who developed, who really developed Zen philosophy.
GH: I see.
SP: And Yanagi developed the Buddhist aesthetic. Yanagi lectured at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, all over this country and the world, and he picked up Hamada and Leach as the epitome of the unknown craftsman, the unheralded craftsman who spends all his life first as an apprentice and then as a journeyman, and then as a real crafts person.
GH: You mean that as a philosophical ideal?
SP: Yes, a philosophical ideal. Art is life, life is art, art is work, work is art. If you grow a radish it’s just the same as if you paint a painting, you grow a radish well, beautifully, a beautiful radish comes out of the ground, you take care of it. I mean, that’s part of their philosophy, and Joseph Weiss picked it up later and said art is life, life is art. Work is art, art is work.
GH: Right. That essentially is the underpinning of really a great deal of conceptual art.
SP: And so okay, I had already made my Hamada Leach connection, and at USC we carried it further by having a big workshop with Hamada in 1963. I had been to Japan, my first trip in 1957, and after the big Hamada workshop, which was done in order that his daughter, his second daughter, could come to school in this country. Japanese yen couldn’t exchange for dollars, so he had to make dollars in this country. And at that point he asked me to write a book about him, and I said, I don’t write books, I write articles for magazines, but I don’t know how to write a book. So he prevailed that I should write a book, and I thought that was kind of an exciting idea. So I said okay, and then I went to South America and I got some terrible disease and I spent almost a year in a hospital, in 1969, and that was my sabbatical year. So I spent it in the hospital. And I didn’t think they’d give me another sabbatical, and they did. They let me have the next year sabbatical. So in 1970 I went to Japan for six months and did the notes for the Hamada book, and that was not published until 1974. That’s kind of another story, but we’re back in the education field.
SP: So during my time at SC I made 54 half hours of television for CBS on ceramics. I did that in 1968, 54 half hours on ceramics, which was maybe the hardest work I ever did in my life. But I thought I was going to be the next Shirley Temple. I just loved it. I had a crew, I took 30 people on my…they built me a set, a studio.
GH: In California?
SP: Yes. It was at the KNXT CBS studios where Bob Hope and everybody else does their…so that was a lot of fun. It was terrible, hard work, and by then I had a new dean. I no longer had Don Goodall, I had a new dean who would not give me any time off to do this series. So I was teaching full schedule and doing three live shows a week for…in those days they didn’t edit, you pretty much did live, and we had a fiasco like this one. At one point I did a whole show, and nobody had recorded it, and I had to stand there and do the whole damn thing over again. But that was a huge experience, and I have now given those 54…I’ve given a copy of those 54 tapes to the library at Hunter, and the original cans, the 2 inch tapes that were originally made are in the archive at Alfred New York State College of Ceramics. So that I did, and kind of at the end of my USC career I also was getting a divorce in 1970 1, and was ready therefore when Jacqueline Wexler called me and asked me to come to Hunter. That had come about because Ray Parker, who had been on the West Coast doing some gigs here and there knew about me, and he knew people, so he knew us in kind of the same context, and he had recommended to Ms. Wexler that she talk to me. Voulkos long ago had been fired at Otis because he burned the building down with the kiln. He had built a big kiln like my kiln at Chouinard and at USC, built in the same way that I had already designed, but he built it within six inches of the roof of the room. He wanted a really large kiln, and I said at the time, I don’t think you should do that, that’s too close to the ceiling, and he said oh, we’ll watch it. It’s an updraft kiln, so there’s fire that comes out of the top. And one night he and his students went down, there’s a movie house just two blocks away from Otis Art Institute on Wilshire Boulevard, so he and the kids went off to the movie and left the kiln on, and when they returned, there was no building. And so Millard Sheets fired him the next day. Do you know who Millard Sheets is? Millard Sheets, big West Coast water color artist.
SP: Who was the head of the art department at Otis Art Institute.
SP: So Peter had gone…within the first few years of southern California, he had gone to Berkeley. Berkeley had picked him up and he was there the rest of his professional life.
GH: Where he did not burn anything down.
SP: He actually didn’t because he did other bad things.
GH: He didn’t burn the building down.
` SP: He didn’t burn the building down, and he became more and more famous. Well, at USC…did I already talk about Kenny Price, my really best ever student?
GH: Yes, you did.
SP: And John Mason from Chouinard. So those two guys have been sort of part of my life ever since. So okay, now I’m going to Hunter.
GH: Well, then Jacqueline Wexler..
SP: Do you want me to tell you about Corita and Magdeline Mary, and Mary Magdeline was the name.
SP: So I knew who Jacqueline Wexler was because I had read the book, “The Nun Who Jumped Over the Walls” which was written about her, and I had seen the Saturday Review of Literature which in those days was a big magazine, and it had run her picture on the cover a couple of times, and that the last time I read about her was about the open admissions program that she had instituted at Hunter College.
SP: So she had been here two years by the time she asked me to come. She came in 1970, I came in 1972. But when she called, she told me that she had been president of Webster College where they had a very big art department, including ceramic art and fiber and photography and…
GH: Webster was in St. Louis?
SP: St. Louis, right. And they have a big architecture department as well. They have a very good art department. So she couldn’t understand why the man on the faculty of art at Hunter College had never had anything but painting and sculpture, and she wanted to enlarge the offerings. But she also told me I would be the first woman in the studio area, and that might not be so easy. Actually it wasn’t.
SP: You know what Ron Gorchov said to me when I first came? I won’t repeat it.
GH: Say, say.
SP: I really had a hard time. The only person who was nice to me at all, the only man who was nice to me on this faculty was Bob Swain, and he came down to that basement several times a week. We were working every day five days. Anyway, Ms. Wexler said she had asked all the potters up and down the East Coast to come to start this ceramic department that she wanted, and nobody would do it because it was such a small, tiny little room in the subbasement, underneath the old building. But I told her I had developed five ceramic departments and I know how to do it, and that doesn’t frighten me, so I’ll come and look, and I had divorced my husband, so I was free, except I had three kids, but I was relatively free. So I came, I looked at the room, and I saw that there was a whole hallway full of rooms, but these rooms were all covered with records from the admissions office, from many, many years…
GH: Probably the whole history of Hunter College.
SP: Sure. So as time went by, in the 22 years I was here, I got room after room. I acquired room after room, and before I left here, I even required the 17 can latrine room which the whole sewer had to be redone in order for us to get that room fixed. The big hand-building room, which the last head of buildings and grounds…what was his name? He took away from me, and Laura Schlumberger tried to help me, but she was new and she couldn’t help me, and he finally did take it. So now it is a storage area for theater furniture. But that room was totally unwalled, it was just an open room, and it had a lot of desks, it was a storage for old desks that nobody wanted, and old swivel chairs from offices that nobody wanted.
SP: So this guy, Reggie San Clemente and I, who was the TA that Jacqueline Wexler gave me, she gave me a person, a body who could work for me 24 hours a day besides do his own work. He was an incredible young man. Eventually married the head of Sotheby something or other, and lives in Europe now.
SP: But he and I, we put a desk on the elevator every day or two, punched the button, and let it go up, and then…so we got rid of all of these desks and chairs. We’d just fill up the elevator and send it upstairs, and someone would have to unload it somewhere. So eventually, within about the second year, I had Reggie San Clemente for two years, and so we acquired that room in addition to having Tony Milkowski, who had bought at one point a big electric kiln that he was going to use as a burn out furnace for lost wax, but he didn’t realize that the wax was just going to fall on the floor and there was going to be no way to get it out. So it was not a burn out furnace, it was a kiln, so it didn’t function for him, so it was in storage someplace. So in addition to my little room at the end of the hall, he asked me if I wanted this kiln, and I said sure. He gave us the end of his long sculpture studio, and we had to erect a concrete block wall because he didn’t want us anywhere near him. So we built the wall, Reggie and I, and a few students, and then we put the electric kiln in, and that wonderful plumber, Arnold, had given me a pipe from some room upstairs, so we had a water pipe running down into the small room that we were using with the wheels, and we got a 50 gallon oil drum can, and we cut a hole in it, and we ran a hose into the…and we put a spigot on it so we could get…each kid could get a bucket of water when he or she needed it, and across the hall now was our kiln in the small room that we had built for the electric kiln. So in the first semester, we had nine sections of ceramics and one section of advanced clay, and Mrs. Wexler had given me a second professor. The upshot of all of that was she wasn’t supposed to hire any full professor, any senior professor, because there was a freeze in 1972. But she had hired me and there was an editorial in the New York Times about this woman president of Hunter who had been able to bypass the board or whatever that was, and hire…
GH: It was the first fiscal crisis in New York in 1972.
SP: Yes, it was.
GH: And 1973.
SP: It was. There was a freeze on hiring, but she also got an assistant professorship for Karen Karnes, I hired Karen Karnes to be the second person in ceramics, and Ms. Wexler brought Gail Wimmer as an adjunct to start fiber, and brought Gjon Mili as an adjunct, famous Gjon Mili as an adjunct to start photography, and somebody for small metals whose name I can’t remember. When Wexler left, all those jobs went away and those areas went away because they didn’t have any rank, they were adjuncts. When Lyman Kipp came to be the head of the department, chair of the department, Lyman is the one who re instituted photography. He didn’t put in fiber again because he hated the course. Everybody hated…those things were not art and they didn’t belong in this refined art department…
SP: …which had the history of Ad Reinhart and Robert Motherwell, and Goossen of course had never wanted any of these other things other than painting and sculpture, but he’s the one who really hired me, but because Jacqueline Wexler said he had to. So he really…he did come around eventually, but I never thought he liked me or that he wanted us to have any ceramic part in the art department.
GH: Was Tony Smith still alive at the point when…
SP: Yes, Tony Smith was alive and teaching, absolutely. He was a little on the edge…
SP: He was frail.
GH: I just came across a photograph where he had a cane.
SP: He was there. Yes. He liked what I was doing. Tony Smith, had he been in his prime, I’m sure he would have been a supporter, an advocate. But in those days he was really barely walking around. But my daughter Jan took painting from him. She had a great experience with him.
GH: Yes, he was a brilliant guy.
SP: So he was a good teacher even in those last days.
SP: And Gjon Mili was fantastic in his photography with no dark room, with no nothing. He taught photography without anything.
GH: People developed their own work elsewhere?
SP: They developed their own work elsewhere. He had them work in slides, he had them get slide film and he projected slides and talked about the composition, the color and this and that. So he was fantastic, but he didn’t last because Wechsler was at the end of her…she quit.
SP: And then we had an interim before we got [Donna] Shalala. We had an interim, I forget who, but we had a couple of years of interim. So when Lyman came, he’s the one who brought photography back. Pardon me, Mark Feldstein had been in the Ed department.
SP: Art Ed department, and was brought over, or maybe he had even maybe half and half appointment, I don’t remember.
GH: It may have been half and half.
SP: He could have been teaching drawing or something like that. So he was brought over to begin again photography, and then later on I think Lyman brought Roy, but I’m not positive who brought Roy.
GH: I think it might have been Sandy.
SP: Kip only was 3 years chairman.
SP: He did what he said he would do, and stopped. Do you remember that?
SP: Well, when we did the search, we as an art faculty decided that we wanted somebody, but we didn’t want to be chairman, so we didn’t want a rotating chair…
SP: We wanted to hire. We had Tony Smith’s line, and we wanted to hire…
GH: That’s right.
SP: …we wanted to hire a person who would be chair and stay chair, like Goossen had done for 10 11 years. So we went looking for a person who would be chair. And remember Paul Brach?
SP: I had known Paul Brach in California, and he was one of the contenders, and Kipp and so forth, and everybody who came to talk to the faculty was asked point blank: are you willing to be department chairman for the rest of your days?
GH: For the rest of your life.
SP: That was what we wanted, that’s what we said.
GH: So true, that’s true.
SP: And each of those men said they were all men naturally each of those men said, of course that’s what they would do. Paul Brach wanted this job in the worst way.
GH: I remember.
SP: But there was a lot of opposition to him, and Kipp, there was no opposition, and everybody liked Kipp as a person. He was a New York person, he had been up at Lehman.
SP: So Kipp got the job.
SP: And the contract was for three years. At that time we were on union contracts for three years.
GH: That’s right.
SP: So he had a three year contract to be chairman of the department. At the end of this three years, he said sorry, I don’t want to be this anymore, and now I’m going to be a sculptor, and he had his professorship and he had his tenure, and nobody could do anything about it, and that’s when Sandy was elected. He had been an adjunct.
SP: And Doris, because Sandy had helped Doris Kennedy so much, she had put him on line and given him…Doris is the one who gave Sandy his tenure, and his line. So he was in line when Lyman quit, and Sandy’s been here ever since. But as far as I’m concerned, in the time I was at Hunter, as I said, I finally acquired the whole basement (inaudible) and after…
GH: Appropriating it piece by piece by piece.
SP: And Mr. Murtagh, I would say to Mr. Murtagh, now I’m ready for this room over here. And he would say well, we can put those records…let’s see, where should we put those records? And he would get the records out of there. And I would get the room.
GH: My God.
SP: So it had to come piecemeal, step by step, and after the first two years of Reginald San Clemente, I never had another TA because this department never allowed me to have one. I did have one friend, ex student from California, who came here, David Amico, to be a painting graduate major, and he did come down and help me a great deal. But it was just because he knew me and he helped me.
GH: In the meantime John Mason came.
SP: So then when Karen Karnes, at the end of two years, she decided she didn’t want to teach any more, she had never taught before and she really didn’t like it, so she went back to her own studio and has never taught again. So then I had asked John in the beginning, but he wasn’t ready to leave California, so he finally decided he was ready and two years later he came. So after I was here two years, then the third year John joined me. But I had already got all the equipment, all the kilns, everything was there at that point.
GH: And of course ceramics became immensely popular.
SP: It did become…nine sections of beginning ceramics was a whole lot to be (inaudible) but at that time, Hunter had a huge enrollment in those days, and we still had open admissions, when I came we still had open admissions. The halls were covered with tables, with Math I, English I, the tutors were up and down the halls working. It was fabulous I thought, a very exciting…
SP: …time at Hunter College under Wexler, whose program that really was, that open admissions program. I used to have standing room only in that basement.
SP: I didn’t have enough chairs or stools.
GH: No, it was mobbed.
SP: There were people standing up at the back of the room when I would lecture.
GH: Yes. Probably the most popular course…
SP: When I left here…
GH: …in the department.
SP: I fought for quite a few years to keep the department after we lost to Shalala and
under Tilden LeMelle.
GH: Yes, LeMelle.
SP: He always liked me, but he didn’t stand up for me too well. And after John Teserero died, so the department was always in limbo, in a state of limbo until I showed Sandy that I had 25% of the total art department enrollment, and by then Mason had left me 7 8 years ago. John was here 11 years. I was here 23 years. So I was alone for quite a while, so I alone, plus one adjunct, teaching one class at night, had 25% of the total art department enrollment. So when Sandy saw that and knew what the FTE would do without ceramics, I mean he really…first off he said well, they’ll all go to other classes. And I said, don’t kid yourself, they’re not going to go into sculpture and painting and drawing.
SP: These are people who want the clay, and that’s it.
GH: That’s it, that’s right.
SP: So anyway, I think that’s a big point, and I’m not sure what the enrollment is now, but I know what it was when…
GH: I think it’s still high.
CA: Very high.
GH: It remains one of the big draws of…
SP: And I think that even by the time I had been here as long as I was here, I think that most of the men on the faculty figured that it was an asset. I mean, I really felt that my conversations that I had with everybody changed over the years, and they decided that it helped painting, it helped drawing, it helps. But even Milkowski might have said…
GH: I think they began to see you as an artist and see the seriousness of…for instance, in the graduate program there always a graduate person in ceramics, so I think the fear originally was of the craft angle, that it was going to bring the department down in some way because it wasn’t high seriousness, you know. They sort of learned, we all sort of learned really.
CA: Hit them over the head, but they learned.
GH: Sometimes it takes that.
CA: Give them a little more room for this whole floor.
SP: The Hamada book was published in 1974, and so I was working on it while I was at Hunter. I did the Maria book while I was at Hunter, and I did the Lucy Lewis book while I was at Hunter, and I really began with Alfred Knopf, though they didn’t ever publish. I began my craft in art of clay while I was at Hunter with Knopf. I had to buy out my contract because they didn’t publish. So then I got Prentice Hall. But this was all done while I was at Hunter, so I’ve always been grateful, not only I carried on my own studio, I always had my own studio, but I was also free enough, this fantastic one and a half day a week, 26 weeks of the year job allowed me to continue my professional life.
GH: Of course.
SP: And I could probably not have done that in the schedule I kept at USC.
SP: Which was four days a week.
GH: Oh, my word.
SP: Four days a week at USC.
SP: I think that…and that philosophy came from Goossen, but he was backed up by Gerald Freund. Freund was a fantastic intellect who helped Jacqueline Wexler to increase the viability of the art department, and helped Goossen to hone down the job so that we…when I first came here I was here four mornings a week, and two afternoons. So in 1972 my schedule was four mornings and two afternoons, and then when Doris came, but it really was Gerald Freund. Freund was the one who always said, if you can teach two days a week, back to back, that’s what to do so you can do your own work. He even told me when I first came here that if I wanted to have a mini course during intersession then we had intersession, a four week intersession in January
SP: He said, if you want to teach a semester course in January every day and not teach the second semester, okay.
SP: I mean, he had that kind of head.
SP: But I never could get students who would come every day at intersession. So we never did that. But that was his mindset, Gerald Freund helped this department immensely.
GH: Right. I don’t think the department was aware of that.
SP: I don’t think they were either, but I knew him quite well, and I saw what he was doing.
SP: And it was also I had access to Wexler and later I had real access to Shalala.
SP: Because she had been…I taught Joan Mondale ceramics in the four years she was in the vice president’s house. I went down every Tuesday on the airplane on the first shuttle that left, and she picked me up and I spent all day with her, and Shalala was the undersecretary of HEW during the Carter administration.
GH: Was she?
SP: So when Shalala was chosen to be the president of Hunter College, Joany Mondale said, you must look up Susan Peterson. So I was about the first person she called when she got to town, Shalala, because she wanted me to decorate the president’s apartment. So she called me up, invited me to lunch and when I got there the apartment was totally blank. I mean, absolutely. Cream colored walls, and nothing in it except Donna had hung up oriental rugs from Turkey and Persia on the walls, and they were all going like this and this. They were in the first place not very good rugs, and the salvage was rippling like the ocean, and they were zigzag on the bottom, and she had not hung them straight in the first place.
GH: How weird.
SP: I said well, the first thing you have to do is get rid of these rugs (inaudible) but anyway, so I met Shalala in the beginning.
SP: So because of that I knew the presidents, I then knew Gerald Freund quite well, and also I liked him, and I liked Peregrin, his wife, who came and took ceramics. She took ceramics, so it was old home week with those people.
GH: Your work, you’re very noted for glazes and for this very advanced…well, not only the advanced work like in the glaze technology, but the…making it accessible to people through the books.
GH: So what you’re saying is that the Hunter job enabled you to really develop that technology…
SP: And I was supporting three kids. I had to put them through Masters degrees, every one of my children has an MFA. So I had to work. It wasn’t that I could stay home and be a studio ceramic artist like some people could do. I had to have a job, and it had to be every month I had to have a pay check because I had no help from my divorced husband. So it was important for me to work, and this, it was like a godsend that Ray Parker recommended me, that Jacqueline Wexler hired me and that I came here, and I will always be grateful, as I say in the foreword to that book.
GH: I never noticed that. (inaudible) I agree.
SP: For me it was terrific, and like other things in my life, that had just sort of dropped down, Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, Maria Martinez, all this stuff is, you think, predestined in a way. It’s strange.
SP: I think life works out for everybody if you just sit back and watch it, it will do that. And I also began my current book that’s coming out in August, The Pottery of American Indian Women, the legacy of generations. I began that work four years ago here at Hunter. So that was really my fifth book that came out of my being in this school, in this institution.
GH: And really another aspect of what you’re talking about, it’s not that you let’s say as a women were terribly active as a feminist, but you set the example by doing all this work on your own…
SP: And that’s what I believed…
GH: …by being the woman in the midst of the men…
SP: With the men, on the same level, as much as possible on the same level. It can never be exactly the same level, probably men really are better than women at most things.
GH: Can’t be. What do you mean?
SP: That’s really a horrendous thing to say, and I grew up too puritanical, too patriarchal. My father and my Amish Mennonite background, etc., puts that into my head, and in…
GH: But your whole life has been an example of you achieving a tremendous amount without men.
SP: When I was asked by…the US government gave $10 million to start a craft school in Appalachia because Joe L. Evins was for 30 years the…he was the head of the House Ways and Means Committee. When he retired from congress, he wanted to give something to his state of Tennessee, so he gave $10 million to start a craft school. But nobody knew how to do that. So eventually they called me and I went down to Tennessee every week that I was at Hunter, for a year, and I built a craft school, called the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Crafts, in Smithville, Tennessee. Smit’l, we used to call it. Halfway between Nashville and Knoxville on the banks of the Cumberland Lakes, the US Army gave 250 acres, and this is a great little school. It’s never much got off the ground, but it has about 80 students every year in clay, fiber, metal, wood and glass, the five crafts. And I developed a BFA program and an MFA program, and a certificate program, and a short workshop kind of program, etc. But what I started to say was, after I put in the faculty, we began the first class, 1980, and we graduated the first BFA class in 1982, and we still had no director because I had hired the faculty, paid them big salaries to come down there, and live there, and they were important people in the craft area, two in each area, so I hired 10, so by the time I got finished with that they told me there wasn’t any money for a director. So for two years we had no director. And I kept going back and forth, but I had already schooled this faculty and I had indoctrinated them and they were doing very well by themselves, they didn’t really need a director. But they then asked me to be the director, and not that I didn’t want to leave Hunter, I really didn’t want to leave Hunter, but I said no, you need a man. It has to be a man to be the director of this school because you have to go out and raise money. If you’re a female, you’ll never get in the back room, you’ll never get in the cigar smoking, bar- drinking male…you just will not get there. And so it has to be a man who can walk into this real whatever and who can gain the money. Later on I thought about that, ever since 1982 I think about that, now wasn’t that a crazy thing to say, and why couldn’t a woman have done that job? And of course there’s a man director there now because I put him in. But I did it with that mindset.
SP: Men are better and I do think they are. I think maybe I was right. This guy doesn’t turn out to have been the right one because he doesn’t go to the CEOs and raise the money, and therefore the school is not building…
GH: How do you square that against your own achievement?
SP: I suppose I’m too…like all of us, we have two sides, and I was indoctrinated early on, and that side creeps in.
SP: And somebody gave me a tremendous amount of energy and a pretty good head, so the other side goes that way, and then I come back to being this docile little thing over here.
GH: I’ll bring you your slippers.
SP: And smoking jacket.
SP: I really don’t know. But I was the only woman here for quite a long time, and then pretty soon some president, I’m sure, said to Sandy, you’ve got to bring some women in, and so they did. We had women adjuncts, but we had no women on the regular faculty.
GH: And women increased their visibility in the art world because so many more women were coming out of the art schools and becoming professionals, and they were there.
GH: And they were doing good work, so the tables really in a way have been turned because there are many, many women now in the art world, and I think it’s changed a tremendous…
SP: Not so many in clay or in sculpture, but a lot of them in painting and drawing and in art history of course. But there are still very few women…
GH: Yes, a lot of very good painters.
SP: …professors in ceramics.
GH: That’s very interesting.
SP: There are more of them out there making a living at their craft, but professorially teaching, it’s still kind of a man’s world in ceramics, partly because it’s physical, it’s heavy. If you’re male, they think you can diddle with the burners better, you can fix the wheels…
GH: Because you’re mechanical.
SP: Mechanical ability and you can lift or carry more.
CA: I’m sorry, but that’s a myth.
SP: I was the only woman in Alfred, as I told you, at New York State College of Ceramics in the graduate program, and among other things that that guy who didn’t want me in the program, the head of the department said, was, I don’t want you to ask anybody to help you with the 100 pound bags of clay.
GH: Wow, it was a test.
SP: And I never did.
GH: It was a test.
SP: I carried those 100 pound bags even in the snow and the ice because our raw material storage was over there, and it was a hill to the ceramic building.
GH: It was a test.
SP: And you had to go up the ice with the 100 pound bag of clay to put it in the clay mixer to make your…
CA: They tested you.
SP: No rolling your eyes at anybody to help you with the 100 pound bags. But I think that’s part of the female thing, too, is that it was thought that if you were female you were maybe going to get whatever you were getting by some wily other unprofessional…
GH: Some ruse.
CA: Just bat your eyelashes: help me. Sure.
SP: I think men have always been afraid of that. And some women really do do that.
GH: In the situation that you were describing at Hunter, I think there really was a shift in the art world, a perceptual shift.
CA: I think you opened the door.
GH: I think that was part of it. I think it really was part of it, yes. And it’s interesting that Jacqueline Wexler was such an instrumental force there. That fact may have been lost at the time.
SP: I think absolutely, because this faculty did not go along with her at all, nor with Donna Shalala.
GH: No. Well, they came to love Donna Shalala because she proved to be a friend of the art department, but I think there was a testing process going on, the same idea.
CA: It was all male.
GH: A lot of men, sure.
SP: When I came, 30 full time faculty, one woman. When I came to USC, 2,000 full time faculty and 8 women.
GH: Holy Jesus!
SP: So it’s not been easy. I have now taught 50 years and in that time it has not changed very much, but it has changed.
GH: It’s changed, but not maybe sufficiently.
CA: You have more males on the staff than females.
SP: But you know, we’re all going to have adjuncts from now on, nobody is going to be professors, so the field has leveled out.
GH: Leveled through economics, yes. Susan, thank you very much, most enlightening, and I hope we can do this again someday.
CA: There is so much more to learn. We just barely broke ground.
SP: We should put George on PBS and you ought to do this on public television.