Remembering: John Stephenson

Remembering: John Stephenson

John Stephenson

John Stephenson photographed at the second ACC North Central Regional Conference, held at the Cranbrook School and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, on June 15 - 17, 1962. Photo: Harvey Croze

It is with great sadness that we share the news that beloved ceramic sculptor and educator John H. Stephenson died on October 20, 2015. A Fellow of the American Craft Council since 2010, Stephenson influenced generations of students through his teaching and leadership at the University of Michigan, and he was internationally recognized for his pioneering abstract sculptures. He was 85 years old.

Born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, Stephenson received a BA in education at the University of Northern Iowa. He went on to study under legendary ceramist Maija Grotell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he received his MFA in 1958. After a yearlong stint teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, he returned to Michigan in 1959 to begin what would become a distinguished 35-year teaching career. While at Michigan, Stephenson served for two years as interim dean of the school of art, and he also received the Catherine B. Heller Distinguished Professorship and an honorary Doctorate of Arts from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1962 Stephenson received a grant to study ceramics in Japan, an experience that would influence the aesthetics of his practice throughout his lifetime. 

In addition to being an ACC Fellow, Stephenson was a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Artist Grant (1986 - 87), a Research in China Grant through the Asian Cultural Council in New York (2000), and an honorary member of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (1992). He exhibited in national and international solo and group exhibitions, and his works can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, the Portland Museum of Art in Oregon, and the Icheon World Ceramic Center in South Korea, to name a few. Alongside his wife, Susanne, who is also a renowned ceramist and ACC Fellow, Stephenson traveled extensively, teaching workshops and giving lectures throughout the United States and abroad - particularly in Asia. He was an active member of the International Academy of Ceramics.

For more on the life of John Stephenson and information about his forthcoming memorial service, please see his obituary in the Ann Arbor News.   


A celebration of life will be held at the University of Michigan League Ballroom on December 5th at 11AM. In lieu of flowers the family is requesting donations in John Stephenson's memory to the Michigan Parkinson Foundation, 30400 Telegraph Road, Suite 150, Bingham Farms, MI 48025 and the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan, 2055 Art and Architecture Building, 2000 Bonisteel Boulevard, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2069, where a fund will be established in John's name - See more at: is survived by Susanne, daughter Tara Nahabetain, son-in-law Dennis and grandchildren Charlie and Emma. For more information on the passing of