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Potter's Legacy Designed to Inspire, Integrate Students' Talents
Peter Held looks on as Don Reitz points out ceramics works at his studio near Sedona, Ariz. © Copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

By: Wendy Craft

PHOENIX, AZ.- On his 80th birthday in 2009, master potter Don Reitz envisioned a program designed to enhance art and creative experiences for students and faculty. Considering himself a teacher’s teacher, Reitz wanted his next level of legacy to be a residency program that transcends academic disciplines in a collaborative, inspirational space. Reitz decided to make a gift of four acres of his northern Arizona property near Sedona including a studio and gallery building, eight wood-firing, salt-glazing and gas kilns, and works of art produced by him and other artists to the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, its School of Art and the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center (CRC).

Reitz is one of the most highly esteemed clay artists and educators in the United States, recognized worldwide for his inspirational teaching and creative use of clay as a sculptural medium. Born in 1929 in Sunbury, Pa. and raised in rural New Jersey, Reitz has helped shape the face of American studio ceramics. An energetic artist as well as a significant educator, his career has been defined by continual innovation. He is best known as a pioneer in the resurgence of salt-fired ceramics. He was an experimenter and tried various slips and oxides to achieve colors never achieved before. Upon his retirement in 1988 as professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he settled near Clarkdale, Ariz. in 1990 along the banks of the Verde River. Reitz’s current production utilizes both wood and salt firing.

“I felt compelled to pay back what I have received from others over my life,” Reitz says. “In accordance with my teaching philosophy about ‘developing a mind’ I feel that the ASU School of Art residency program will provide a unique arts experience for students outside the traditional academic environment. I envision not only ceramists working here but poets, writers, painters and sculptors to share and exchange ideas that will expand their vision of the arts.”

The residency program begins operation in December 2010. During a three-week period held at both his facility and ASU, Reitz will lead a master workshop that encompasses several sessions about making and firing ceramics. This program will include the study of the creative process as well as practical aspects of making a successful artistic career. These types of useful and engaging programs with Reitz certainly will be highly beneficial to School of Art students selected for the residency program.

Adriene Jenik, the school’s director, recently met with Reitz at his studio and is delighted to bring students together to experience the space and learn from him firsthand. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to host a residency program in such an inspiring place,” Jenik says. “Through this special gift, student artists at ASU will be able to experience a different type of creative flow and community spirit than can be achieved in the space and time offered in the classroom. The School of Art is honored to work with Reitz to realize his vision of supporting creative practice across the Herberger Institute.”

In addition to the artistic and academic advantages of the residency program, Reitz’s legacy gift includes pieces of his artwork that will enhance the CRC’s collection. Peter Held is curator of ceramics at the CRC and longtime friend of Reitz, and is working to develop a retrospective collection of Reitz’s work spanning his long and productive career.

“Don Reitz’s work surely will touch and inspire CRC visitors for years to come,” Held says. “His expertise and contributions to the field of ceramics is extraordinary. We give our heartfelt thanks to Don for his friendship and investment, shown by entrusting Arizona State University with his legacy.”

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