Remembering: Val Cushing

Remembering: Val Cushing

Val Cushing

Val Cushing instructing in the studio (undated, Craft Horizons)

It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of beloved ceramics master and teacher Val Cushing on November 17, 2013. He was 82 years old.

Born in Rochester, New York, on January 28, 1931, Val Cushing received his BFA in 1952 from the School of Art & Design at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. After serving two years in the Army during the Korean War, he returned to Alfred and received his MFA in 1956. His full-time teaching career began that year at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The following year he returned to Alfred where he taught pottery and technical courses concerning clays, glazes, and related subjects. He remained at Alfred until he retired in 1997, when he was designated professor emeritus.

Cushing was known for his devotion to the wheel-thrown, utilitarian vessel. His pitchers, bowls, and casseroles feature clean, simple lines in earthy colored glazes inspired by the landscapes that surrounded him at his home in Alfred Station, New York. During his career, Cushing’s meditative, yet functional, pots were included in more than 200 exhibitions, including numerous one-person shows. His work can be found in the collections of many public and private museums and galleries, including the Smithsonian, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt, and the Everson Museum of Art.

In addition to his studio work, Cushing devoted his life to teaching students both at Alfred and beyond at places such as Penland, Anderson Ranch, Peters Valley, Haystack, and abroad in countries including England, Norway, and Spain. He received honors for his role as a teacher from Alfred University, the State of New York, and from NCECA (The National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts) where he was a founding member and a past president. In 1987 he was named a Fellow of the American Craft Council. Additional awards included an artist grant from the National Endowment of the Arts; a Fulbright grant for teaching and research in Manchester, England, and an artist-in-residence grant at the Archie Bray Foundation and the University of Wolverhampton, England.

Until his death, Cushing worked full-time in his studio and continued exhibiting his work and conducting occasional lectures and workshops. He found the greatest joy in maintaining a creative life and spending time with his family, including his wife, Elsie, four children, and seven grandchildren.

For more information on the life and work of Val Cushing, check out the oral history interview with the artist conducted as part of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art’s Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America.