Born in Queens, New York, on July 23, 1937, Susan Duhan Felix died Feb. 4, 2023.
For 54 years, Susan Felix was the beloved wife of Morton Felix. She was the devoted mother of Lisa Felix and loving grandmother of Elianna Derr. She is survived by her sister, Nancy Duhan Travis (Philip Travis), her sisters-in-law Deirdre Arima-Duhan and Miriam Duhan, and her sweetheart Peter Neufeld. Susan was predeceased by her husband, Morton Felix, and her brothers, Adam and Richard Duhan.
Morton and Susan moved from the East Coast via Mexico to Berkeley in 1967, when she was 29. For 20 years Susan was the director of University Avenue Housing and worked with clay on evenings and weekends. In recent years Susan combined her interest in arts and housing by serving on the board of Vital Arts, a nonprofit working to provide East Bay artists with safe and accessible spaces to live, work, and perform.
As a co-founder of the Jewish Arts Community of the Bay (JACOB), a founding member of the Berkeley Cultural Trust, president of the Berkeley Arts Commission, and in her last 16 years as the art ambassador of Berkeley, Felix has been dedicated to supporting artists and fostering collaboration across art forms and cultural identities. At the age of 81, Felix created and began hosting Bay Area ArtBeat, a cable TV program on the arts for the Berkeley Community Media (BCM) channel 28.
Susan’s ceramics have been exhibited widely, including the Houston Museum of Contemporary Crafts, the Graduate Theological Library, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City, the Craft and Folk Museum in Los Angeles, the Oakland Museum, and at Christie’s in London, as well as many galleries throughout North America. As a ceramic artist for 60 years, Susan’s later work focused on Jewish ceremonial art. Her pit-fired vessels, candle holders, wine cups, blessing bowls, and wall pieces are often inscribed with Hebrew and, occasionally, Arabic words. Her ceramics are held in the collections of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia, and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.
Susan’s enthusiasm for working with clay echoed her love of dance. “Clay is yielding, malleable; it responds to touch. It’s like a dance partner. You move, it moves. I love the direct contact between my hands and the material.” Susan was well known for leading the dancers during Friday night services at Chochmat Ha Lev; she studied and danced with Anna Halperin for many years.
As a young woman Susan fell in love with Morton Felix’s poetry before she met him; her love of poetry continued throughout her life. Missing the poems that Morton wrote for her on her birthday, after his death Susan invited her friends to create poems for her. This project culminated in a book of poems called Stay Amazed (Poetry Flash Flyers: 2014) and generated several public birthday celebrations, which brought together musicians, poets and dancers, in her honor and Morton’s memory.
Bold, enthusiastic and joyful, Felix brought those qualities to her friendships, her political activism, her participation in civic life, and her art and artistic collaborations. Friendship was an art form that Susan took seriously. Her devotion to the art of friendship and her wide circles of young and old friends in several overlapping artistic, Jewish, Buddhist, and political communities is not surprising given that Susan was creative in every bone of her body.
Susan signed her emails “Stay Amazed” and began many conversations, “Sweetheart.” Susan often approached her projects as a series of beautiful adventures that she was inviting others to join. Her counsel to stay amazed was not based on naiveté but rooted in a profound sense of the brokenness of the world, as shown by her choice to piece together some of her pottery from shards and the instruction of one of her favorite psalms “to turn mourning into dancing.”
The City of Berkeley has declared a “Susan D. Felix Day’ in 1989 and 1996. On July 23, 2019, the City of Berkeley presented Felix with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Susan felt that the role of the artist is to continue the work of creation. “It is an ongoing process. It never ends.” In honor of Susan Felix ‘s memory and legacy, let us stay amazed, dance, praise creativity in the spirit of service, and the creative in the service of spirit.
Donations in memory of Susan Felix can be made to Chochmat HaLev or the organization of your choice.