Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

It's not their first honor in nearly 50 years of creating ceramic art, but it is the highest yet.

Sonora artists Bill and June Vaughn, a creative team since their marriage in 1967, have had one of their pieces accepted into the American Museum of Ceramic Art.

The functional porcelain lidded jar, titled "Suru," is now on permanent display at the museum, located in Pomona in eastern Los Angeles County.

"For us, this is the highest honor you can get," Bill said. "We're in the same collection with people we have admired for years. It's the Mount Rushmore of ceramics - they don't get any bigger than this."

According to its literature, the museum collects and preserves significant ceramic achievements of the world's cultures from ancient times to the present. Its permanent collection, which consists of more than 3,000 pieces, illustrates the impact of ceramics on the development of human cultures.

"It's a world museum," Bill said. "It just happens to be in California."

June noted that people come from all over the state, country and world to visit the museum, which opened in 2004 and expanded into a two-story former bank building in 2011.

"It's a pilgrimage for people interested in the arts and ceramics," she said.

Bill called being part of the museum "the highlight of my life."

They both believe the honor was bestowed not only for the specific piece but as a recognition of their 46 years of creativity.

In fact, "Suru" dates from 1974, when they were still creating functional stonework.

"We were just babies then," June said.

They have since gone on to worldwide acclaim for their nonfunctional conceptual art. Among other major venues, their works have been shown for the past two years at the International Ceramic Art Exhibition in Shanghai, China.

Two of their pieces have been added to the Shanghai exposition's permanent world collection.

Vaughn works can also be found at the Brand Art Museum Library in Glendale and the permanent traveling collection of American Potters.

For inclusion in the American Museum of Ceramic Art, the Vaughns were asked to submit three pieces for committee review.

They brought two of their elaborate contemporary pieces along with the earlier "Suru."

"They wanted something from our Claremont period, where we had been in major shows before we moved here," Bill said.

Claremont, not far from Pomona, had been the center of Southern California ceramic activity in the 1960s and '70s largely because of Scripps College pottery professor Paul Soldner, who revolutionized the medium.

One complication with "Suru," however, was that the piece was owned by Bill's sister, who was not inclined to part with it. She eventually agreed to a trade.

Both Bill and June were raised in coastal Southern California and married in 1967. June had already been studying ceramics at Harbor and El Camino colleges, while Bill worked as an aerospace designer for the Apollo project.

He began assisting June with her ceramic work when they wed.

The couple moved to Twain Harte in 1972 after the collapse of the aerospace industry. Bill signed on as an assistant basketball coach at Columbia College, while June also worked part-time as a special education teacher.

They opened a pottery studio in Twain Harte, later moving to Apple Valley, and now reside on a ranch in the Wards Ferry area.

A hallmark of their work is that they both contribute to every piece. Bill shapes and fires the clay, while June further develops the pieces with decoration that includes paint, stones, carving, antlers, beads, shells, feathers, recycled jewelry and found objects.

In addition to their conceptual pieces, June also has developed a line of clay and stone pendants.

Though the Vaughns have lived in Tuolumne County for more than 40 years, they rarely exhibited their works here in the early years.

Instead, they traveled to Southern California, where their work caught the attention of the owner of Griswold's Art Gallery in Clare-mont. "He said he wanted us to design something for every show they had," Bill said.

Locally, however, they have participated in the Columbia Art Show every year since its inception, with this fall marking their 41st year.

They also are represented at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys.

June believes the only honor higher than the ceramics museum would be a spot in the Smithsonian Institution, though Bill noted that their work would probably end up in storage.

At the ceramics museum, he said, "Once it's in, it's in - it's on permanent display."