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Val Cushing reflects on “A Life of Clay” in this 2012 interview produced by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. Cushing died on Nov. 17, 2013. (Credit: NCECA; YouTube.)

“I see materials and processes and activities in ceramics to be so unendlessly interesting that there is always going to be something out there in front of me that I’m never going to be able to catch up,” says Val Cushing, Alfred University professor emeritus of ceramics in a video interview produced by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. Although an artist, Cushing’s words also apply to the engineering process and the way materials, processing, inquiry, and imagination braid together.

Cushing passed away on Sunday, Nov. 17. He had a long relationship with The American Ceramic Society and was named Ceramic Artist of the Year in 1977 by the Society’s former Arts Division. When the Society acquired the Ceramics Publishing Company to serve the information and networking needs of the art ceramics community, Cushing was an important contributor as an author and member of the Editorial Advisory Board.

Cushing’s entire professional life took place at Alfred University, according to a press release from university president Charles Edmonson. He earned BFA and MFA degrees from AU (separated by a few years by service in the US Army) and joined the faculty in 1957. Forty years later, he retired and continued to explore “a life of clay” in his studio, through Ceramic Arts Daily (ACerS CPC), and teaching. Edmonson notes that as recently as September Cushing was on campus to give a lecture on the history of AU’s College of Ceramics.

In the nearly 4-minute video above, Cushing explains that his exploration of art is driven by his interests in diversity of ideas, and he cites jazz and improvisation as an example. Looking at a tray of unfired mugs, he explained that they were a study in improvisation. Using the same weight of clay for each mug, he says, “Some will be carved, some will be decorated, some will be not decorated. That’s what I call improvisation—all around the idea that it’s going to end up in somebody’s kitchen. But, my real fulfillment as a potter comes in my improvisation of the pieces.”

“A life of clay for me has been an opportunity to be as creative and imaginative as I’m capable of being, therefore fulfilling that need [as an artist to communicate] in myself,” he says in the interview. A selection of Cushing’s pieces can be viewed on his website. Several museums added his pieces to their collections, including the American Craft Museum in New York City, the Everson Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., the Rochester (N.Y.) Memorial Art Gallery, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and others.

Let us take one last lesson from a beloved teacher and live lives with open minds, embrace creativity, generously serve our fellow travelers in life, and be ardent stewards of our talents.

To his family, colleagues, and those who knew him personally, the Society extends its sincere condolences.