Enriching lives through art and craft

Tribute to Arrowmont instructor, Utilitarian Clay presenter, and friend: Michael Simon (1947 – 2021)

Last week, the clay world was rocked by the news that Michael Simon has died. Longtime Arrowmont staff member and Utilitarian Clay Symposium founder Bill Griffith and co-founder Peter Beasecker remember their friend and colleague in a video tribute.

Watch the video at https://youtu.be/GlBglEJRt40 or click the image below:

Remembering Michael Simon

Bill Griffith  9/10/2021

Greetings from the Arrowmont Pottery Studio where we want to take a few minutes to honor and pay tribute to potter Michael Simon who died this week.

Here in this studio Michael taught several workshops in the late 80’s and early 90’s and was an invited Presenter for three Utilitarian Clay Symposia.

Several of his demo pots can be found throughout the Boneyard and we pulled his spectacular lidded jar (1990) from the Arrowmont Permanent Collection.

Michael was a humble, quiet person with a kind soul.  I recall his quiet demeanor during his workshop demo’s.  Many instructors like to tell personal stories or jokes while they demo- but at Michael’s demos you could hear a pin drop or the rhythmic squeak of his treadle wheel.  Students were fixated on his skillful brushwork or his magical carving, paddling and transforming a wheel thrown round form into a square Persian lidded box.

( Quote from Warren MacKenzie, Michael’s ceramics professor in the late 1960’s at the University of MN.)

“ Mike’s work has always been quiet an understated, but over the years has grown in power.   Like so much that is quiet and understated, I believe his work will be appreciated and reveal its complexity only through repeated viewing and long exposure.  He has made a significant contribution to contemporary ceramics.”

Somewhere around 1995-96 Michael decided he didn’t want to teach hands on workshops, but he indicated he would accept the offer to be a Presenter at Arrowmont’s future Utilitarian Clay Symposiums if invited.

( A quote from Michael Simon from the book Michael Simon Evolution)

“I had given my spiel; I had been able to do it many times, tell people what I felt about the work and how my work developed, and I just didn’t’ feel like I was able to put anything new or get anything out.

I felt like it was more valuable to be home and in the studio and also not thinking about myself.  Something tells me that a really mature phase of making things is going to be not thinking about making them.”

Michael had a funny quirky laugh that I so enjoyed and loved hearing!

In his demo’s, Michael often used the word Flabbergasted, a word I had not heard or used often.  He uses Flabbergasted a few times in his book Evolution during his interview with Mark Shapiro.  Other useful meanings of Flabbergasted are: surprised, amazed, astonished or astounded.  Those words come into mind now for me when I look at Michael’s pots.

Thank you Michael Simon.  You and your pots have made the world a more kind and beautiful place for all your many fans and the generations of potters to follow.


Bill Griffith wrote of the history of the symposium, “In the spring of 1990, Michael Simon, well respected studio potter from Georgia was teaching a one-week workshop at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. I was the Assistant Director of Arrowmont and approached Michael at the end of the workshop session and asked for his thoughts about Arrowmont hosting a conference with a focus on making pottery. Michael liked the idea and commented, ‘if you do a conference about pottery, I hope you celebrate the object, damn it!’ With that comment and a bit of editing, the official title was born. I took the lead designing and coordinating the first conference (referred to as a conference in the early years) held in the fall, 1992.” Arrowmont invites you to participate in this craft tradition and register for Utilitarian Clay VIII National Symposium this year.

Michael Simon (1947 – 2021) is a functional ceramic artist who lived in Athens, Georgia. His works are usually fired in salt kilns with motifs of nature and animals. Simon was a student of Warren MacKenzie, who was, in turn, a student of Bernard Leach. Though their influence is felt, Simon’s work is unique; every pot emerges with an integrity and attitude all its own. He received his BFA. from the University of Minnesota and MFA. from the University of Georgia. In 2011, Michael Simon had a major exhibition at The Northern Clay Center entitled Michael Simon: A Life in Pots featuring 30 years of his pottery. He published Michael Simon: Evolution the same year. In 2013, he exhibited at the Georgia Museum of Art and showcased his best pots from the past several decades. The exhibition was called Pick of the Kiln: The Work of Michael Simon. His work can be found in the Los Angeles County Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and is in The Rodger Corsaw Collection of Ceramic Art at Alfred University.


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