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About Bill Armstrong

16 Feb 2024 1:28 PM | Cirrelda Snider-Bryan (Administrator)

Every year when we launch the Bill Armstrong Grant there’s an urge to know more about the man the grant was named after. Bill Armstrong was a founding member of New Mexico Potters Association (the original name of the organization) in the early 1970s. After he passed away, the organization established a grant to award ceramic education programs in his name. 

The award was begun in 2002 according to Daisy Kates, who, with Penne Roberts, administered the grant from 2002 through 2018. Michael Thornton took over the grant administration in 2019. 2005 is the earliest grant listed on the website. Just one grant is not on that list – “2002: Healthcare for the Homeless, Artstreet, Downtown Albuquerque.” This means that Bill Armstrong must have passed before 2002. 

Internet searches still do not reveal an obituary. Many longtime NMPCA members were contacted, asking for their memories about Bill. No one could remember the year he died. But a few folks shared anecdotes! 

Pam Seigal, who moved away from ABQ to Eugene, Oregon in 2012, but was a member of NMPA in the early days, had this to say about Bill: “I was under the impression that Bill bequeathed some funds in his will toward a grant fund. Bill and I traveled to Europe together for the Dutch Potters Exchange. Bill set up the whole affair. I had organized their housing when they came to New Mexico. That was 1991. We took them out to the end of Southern Blvd. in Rio Rancho where there was no sign of civilization. That impressed our Dutch visitors. Also drive-throughs – they don’t have a car culture like we do. But much earlier, Bill and I were two of the originators of NMPA, when I served as president, he was vice president. Then he became president.”

Judith Richey shared her memories about Bill Armstrong in December of 2022: “I would say yes, Bill was one of the founding members of NM Potters Association. I don’t remember what year he died. He was instrumental in getting meetings held at Ghost Ranch, as well as contacting people to do workshops at the Ranch. Amazing in that respect. He was a very kind fellow, very generous, and he had a wealth of info to share. We were very lucky to have had his help. Very big on Ghost Ranch. From very early on, he was arranging workshop leaders. He valued people. When I went to Ghost Ranch, it was to attend the Potters Association workshops.  When we all got together, the camaraderie was wonderful. Last time I saw Bill and his wife, it was at a Mexican restaurant on 4th street. Really glad to know him. A really giving person.” 

Mary Sharp Davis shared this about Bill in 2023.  “Bill Armstrong? I miss him. He was a draw-string type of person. It was easy for him to get a hands-on group together for potters. He was willing to share whatever it was he knew. He was generous, jovial, welcoming. If you were looking for a glaze, he would give you his glaze recipe.”

Cirrelda Snider-Bryan recollects: “I am looking through an incomplete set of old Slip Trails and can’t find when he died nor an article explaining that the grant would be named after him. However, I did read many an old editorial that he wrote, like this one at the top of the March 1984 NMPA Newsletter. I took Primitive Fired Pottery seminar taught by Jim Kempes and him at Ghost Ranch in 1989. Bill was there leading with Jim as we visited several digging spots to collect from deposits for use as either clay or slip. Especially remembered was the vein on highway 85 overlooking the Chama River, about ten miles south of the Ranch, at that iconic view. The Ranch van parked in the pull-out parking area, and we crossed the highway to a band of dark maroon that proved later to be a great slip. I had already known Bill from attending the Ou Mie Shou workshop on Chinese brush painting sponsored by NMPA in 1984. His wife Mary also took that multiple Saturday workshop held at the Albuquerque Zoo in the Reptile and Amphibian Hall with the renowned Chinese artist who had lived in Albuquerque for decades since leaving China after WWII. Then, there is this description of 1986 seminar offered at Ghost Ranch a few years in a row, with Bill in the list of instructors, which I wish I would have signed up for!” 

Penne Roberts did not remember when Bill died either. She shared: “Bill Armstrong was very instrumental with the Heights Community Center’s pottery studio for its first twenty years. Until the City changed it. They didn’t understand pottery, and remodeled the building, didn’t pay attention to our feedback. The great thing about pottery is you don’t have to be structured. All get inspiration from each other. Conversations were really good, philosophical. Really, really good.”

Penne also shared generously of her set of photo albums that document clay happenings in New Mexico from the mid-seventies on. Let’s revel in these photos with their great captions, to get a sense of the variety of activities he was involved with and instigated. We can sense who this great leader from New Mexico Potters beginnings was, from all of these photos:

Penne sharing from one of her photo archives at her home in Albuquerque, 2023. Photo: Cirrelda SB.

Bill in center, white hair and plaid shirt. Tonque Brick factory field trip he organized. Photo: Penne Roberts

Bill, right, and geologist, left, inspecting the clay deposit at Tonque Brick Factory in Tonque Wash. Photo: Penne Roberts

Two geologists at the Tonque Brick pile. Early 1980s. Photo: Penne Roberts.


1981 Raku kiln building workshop at Bill Armstrong’s Corrales home. Photos: Penne Roberts  

1981 Raku kiln building and firing at Bill Armstrong’s – Mary and Bill on right, Daisy Kates front center. Photo: Penne Roberts.


Left: UNM Clay, Fiber, Wood Show program, organized by Bill Armstrong, 1984. Right: Tile conjunto by Bill Armstrong. Photos: Penne Roberts.

One person recommended talking to another while researching Bill Armstrong’s NMPA contributions for this article. Thanks to Penne, Judith, Mary, Pam, for helping us see how well Bill Armstrong connected folks in the early decades of our organization. From the Dutch Potters Exchange, to engaging UNM Ceramics Faculty and exhibits, creating workshops with renowned clay artists from near and far, strengthening the relationship with Ghost Ranch Conference Center, to making the connection for the community with hands-on firing and clay deposit digging – his legacy now lives on in the long list of ceramics education projects supported under his name.

¡Bill Armstrong, presente!  

---Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, editor

--Please send stories of Bill to editor: --

Armstrong Grant 2023 Summary

By Michael Thornton, Armstrong Grant Administrator

This year two organizations answered the call for proposals for NMPCA’s Bill Armstrong Grant.  

After due consideration and site visits to meet the applicants, the board voted unanimously to approve both proposals. 

Congratulations to Art Smart NM, and Thrive Community School, both of Santa Fe, on your worthy projects!

Art Smart’s project is helping to fund an artist residency, which brings artist Jarrett West to instruct students in art. The grant will impact 60 2nd and 3rd grade students at Sweeny Elementary School. The grant will fund necessary materials, tools and support for this project to include travel for field trips, and the construction of a permanent outdoor installation. 

The project at Thrive Community School will benefit 250 K - 7th students by providing materials and tools needed for ceramics lessons. 

Students will participate in exhibitions planned to share their artwork at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the International Folk Art Museum. 

NMPCA is proud to support these projects, as it fulfills our mission to promote education in the ceramic art. 

More will be shared here after reports about the schools’ projects come back.

We call ourselves the NMPCA!