Retiring professor has molded storied career from clay

Oct 16, 2014

Thumbnail for Retiring professor has molded storied career from clay
Thumbnail for Retiring professor has molded storied career from clay

by Rich Kiley

While longtime RIT professor and celebrated ceramic artist Richard Hirsch is stepping away from his everyday teaching duties after more than 40 years in the classroom, he wants people to know he is “definitely not retiring.”

“Timing is everything,” Hirsch said from his studio in Scottsville, N.Y. “I’ve had a long, wonderful and productive teaching career. Now I get to accelerate my role as a studio artist.”

It’s hard to believe his work needs to speed up. The New York City native’s career already has spanned some of the most important developments in the American Clay Movement and has seen the world-renowned ceramic artist ascend to among the leaders in the contemporary clay field.

Unlike artistic movements of earlier days, Hirsch observed, the “sea change” occurring in today’s crafts environment is making the creative world “less definable.”

“What students are doing today when it comes to using the computer as a design tool is truly remarkable,” he said. “There have been some very radical changes. I’ve enjoyed my role helping them conceptually as a facilitator, especially on the graduate level, watching their wonderful ideas come to fruition.”

The global dynamic shift over the last four decades when it comes to ceramics and other creative fields has resulted in a huge spectrum of work both here and abroad in regions such as Japan, China and Eastern Europe, he said.

“If you look at art in America today, there’s no predominant (artistic) movement,” Hirsch said. “It’s all over the aesthetic map.”

The global appeal and reach of today’s artist through social media has enabled Hirsch to watch many of the hundreds of students he has taught and mentored at the School for American Crafts inside RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences forge successful careers both here and abroad.

Two colleagues said it will be a bit surreal this semester not to see Hirsch in his familiar studio inside Booth Hall, where he has been a steadfast mentor for so long.

“RIT’s ceramics program and School for American Crafts will greatly miss Rick’s articulate mind, skilled hands and generous sense of humor,” said Jane Shellenbarger, assistant professor of ceramics in SAC. “Rick is able to impart to his students the deep commitment, work ethic and vigilance that being a serious artist entails. He continues to be a consummate example … I will truly miss him as a colleague.”

“Rick is such a giant in the field of contemporary ceramics,” added Robin Cass, associate dean and professor in CIAS and former administrative chair of SAC. “As a college, we are truly fortunate that he chose to commit himself to teaching in addition to making his own work; it’s a rare and generous decision for an artist of his stature.”

Hirsch said he’s not going away from RIT entirely. Shellenbarger and her ceramics students have asked if he will occasionally guest lecture or conduct student critiques when he is not busy in his studio. Hirsch said he has gladly accepted the invitations.

“It’s a privilege and my legacy to mentor such talented students and then proudly watch the contributions they make to the ceramics field,” Hirsch said. “What more can you ask for?”


Exhibit will feature diverse artists behind Shop One

Artists who were integral to Shop One’s original downtown Rochester location will be part of an upcoming exhibit celebrating the unique gallery and the instrumental role it played in the craft movement.

The show will take place in the Bevier Gallery on the second floor of Booth Hall from Oct. 13 to Nov. 8. A reception featuring a number of the exhibiting artists in attendance will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 17.

In addition to the likes of late founders Frans Wildenhain, Jack Prip, Tage Frid and Ron Pearson, the exhibit will feature a wide range of artists who were the force behind the original Shop One. Organizers of the upcoming exhibit are hoping to build off a successful 2012 show featuring Wildenhain's work.

Although Shop One on Troup Street ultimately closed its doors in 1975 after a nearly 25-year run, the gallery was reborn in October 2010 at an upscale boutique location at Global Village on the RIT campus—sporting a minor name change: Shop One² (Shop One Squared).


The upcoming show aims to highlight more than a half-century’s dedication to the innovative and entrepreneurial interest in craft, craft education and craft retailing by RIT faculty, students and the wider arts community.