Paulus Berensohn. Photo: Neil Lawrence

Paulus Berensohn (1933–2017)

Paulus Berensohn, a dancer, potter, and teacher, who is best known for his 1972 book Finding One’s Way with Clay, died on June 15 in Asheville, North Carolina, at the age of eighty-four, Jonathan Wolfe of the New York Times reports.

Born on May 14, 1933 in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, Berensohn knew he wanted to be a dancer by the age of four. After only three professional dance classes he applied and was accepted into Juilliard. Berensohn joined the Juilliard Dance Division in 1954, but transferred the following year to attend Bennington College. He eventually left the school before earning his degree and moved to New York where he studied under Martha Graham. Berensohn also took classes at Yale University and Goddard College.

While his career in dance was accelerating, a short trip to the Gate Hill Cooperative, a haven for artists in Stony Point, New York, changed the course of his life. After watching ceramicist Karen Karnes using a kick wheel in her studio, Berensohn realized he wanted to work with clay. “What happened was a desire to de-professionalize my interest in art,” Berensohn explained. “As much as I admire the technical brilliance of my colleagues, I am very interested in the behavior of art rather than the achievement of art. I see all the arts as apprenticeships for the big art of our lives.”

Berensohn enrolled at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine and learned from his mentor the potter and poet M. C. Richards. He began teaching pottery at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, and at Swarthmore College. In 1965, he bought a farm near Scranton, Pennsylvania, dubbed Endless Mountains Farm, and started an artists’ colony. His experiences led him to create and lead more than thirty workshops all over the world. An honorary fellow of the American Craft Council since 1998, Berensohn was the subject of the 2013 documentary To Spring From the Hand: the Life and Work of Paulus Berensohn.