Harriet was a force. Thirty-five years ago, we met on an NCECA pre-conference trip to Mexico. I had recently gotten involved in ceramics, and she became a mentor to me. She inspired me to evolve as a clay artist and traveler and offered me a view of how a working artist ages.
Harriet took me under her wing; she introduced me to Gerry Williams, the founding editor of Studio Potter magazine. I began writing articles for the magazine’s newspaper-style newsletter, Studio Potter Network News. In 2000, Harriet encouraged me to join the SP board. Board meetings were usually held in Massachusetts, a six-hour round trip from my home in Connecticut, so I stayed at Harriet’s home, and that let me spend important time with Harriet. Through our years on the SP board together, Harriet introduced me to many clay artists whose work I had studied in grad school.
Harriet had a mathematical mind, richly reinforced by her artwork and the life she created with her husband and fellow artist, David Brisson. Her modular ceramic creations, with components that fit together effortlessly, are evidence of her keen logic.
Harriet approached her tenure as president of the SP board the same way: She ensured that all the pieces fit, while keeping a window open for creative details. Harriet’s powerful memory for names, places, and details allowed her to navigate the board’s agenda during a time of fiscal challenges. For example, she walked the tightrope between Gerry Williams’s strict policy of no advertisements in the magazine and the younger board members’ recognition of the need for advertisements as a revenue source.
Harriet and I traveled several more times together to Mexico. We went to Rosarita Beach, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Morelos, and Cozumel, and she never complained about the less-than-stellar accommodations. Physically and mentally vigorous, she had unbounded energy to be an artist and a board leader and to explore ceramics abroad.
In 2015, Harriet was honored with the Regional Award of Excellence at the Providence NCECA. Her son pushed her in a wheelchair to the front of the lecture hall to accept the award. By that time, her health was in rapid decline, and she was a shadow of her stronger, younger self. But, she still had the pixie gleam in her eye as I embraced her after the presentation.
I often recall Harriet’s wisdom and devotion to making art. I now mentor other potters, knowing that Harriet would approve of my paying it forward. Her memory will live on through her students, friends, and colleagues at Rhode Island College, through NCECA and Studio Potter magazine, through her loving family, and through her masterful ceramic artwork that remains for our enjoyment.
Editor’s Note: Harriet E. Brisson died on August 24, 2019. A memorial service was held Friday, September 20, 2019 at 2:00 pm at the Rehoboth Congregational Church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.