Paulus Berensohn, a Dancer Who Pivoted to Pottery, Dies at 84

A charismatic and striking figure, his lean dancer’s body topped by a snow-white ponytail, Mr. Berensohn was also a magnetic speaker who, with a resonant voice, often recited poetry on the fly and spoke passionately to students about art and environmental issues.

Paul Bernsohn was born on May 14, 1933, in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, to Adolph Bernsohn, a women’s clothing designer, and the former Edyth Kalison. His brother, Lorin, was a cellist with the New York Philharmonic. (He later added the “e” to his last name — to give it more panache, he said — and the “us” to his first name.)

Mr. Berensohn, who was dyslexic and often spoke about his condition, attended a number of institutions of higher education, including the Juilliard School in New York and later Bennington College in Vermont. He studied dance at both schools.

After leaving Bennington without a degree, he moved back to New York City, where, he said, he took classes with Merce Cunningham and was used as a demonstrator by Martha Graham when she taught classes.

In the early ’50s, Mr. Berensohn made a short but life-changing trip to the Land commune, a community of artists near the Hudson River town of Stony Point, N.Y., made up of graduates and faculty from the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. At the Land, he saw Karen Karnes, a ceramist, at work at a kick wheel, and her artistry and movement inspired him to take up the craft.

“I thought, that’s a dance to learn,” Mr. Berenson told the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in an oral history interview in 2009.

At the Land, Mr. Berensohn also met M. C. Richards, an influential potter and poet, and followed her to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Me., where he enrolled in her pottery workshop. The two developed a lifelong companionship, and during his time at Haystack Mr. Berensohn began to develop his philosophy of ceramics as a…

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