Carlow University’s Art Department Chair Dale Huffman is going down in history — in Pittsburgh’s history museum. The Senator John Heinz History Center is recognizing Huffman with the designation of Master Visual Artist.
Since 1991, only seventy-one artists have received the honor, including eleven artists recognized in 2019.
The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania established the Master Visual Artist designation to preserve the work and records of exceptionally accomplished artists in the region. The honor includes sitting for a video interview that is placed in the museum’s archives.
Huffman has specialized in ceramics since earning his MFA in 1976 from the Chicago Institute of Art. His wood-fired pieces have been featured in dozens of art publications and acquired by numerous permanent collections, such as the American Museum of Ceramic Art, The Fredrick R. Weisman Art Museum, Orton Ceramics Foundation, and Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum.
Two transformational moments made an impression on Huffman as a practicing artist. The first experience was a glass-blowing course, which almost did not happen. The art professor at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics, nearly considered removing non-art majors from the overbooked course. Fortunately, Huffman was permitted to stay, and the course lit a passion.
“I am so grateful for my undergraduate glass-blowing course. It is where I realized I worked better in an intuitive mode. Although I was good at physics and the analytical thinking it involved, my career path would eventually lead to studio art,” Huffman said.
The second experience to make an impact on his career was a 1996 artists retreat with 14 other artists in Japan. He further developed his practice and knowledge of wood-fired ceramics in a region known for this style of art.
Huffman’s art medium of choice is clay. His vases, bowls, pots and other ceramics are published in art books and exhibited around the world.
Huffman made an impact in Pittsburgh by bringing artists and art events to town. He organized a ceramics conference in Pittsburgh in 2008 and brought a dozen international artists to Carlow for a workshop in 2009.
“My work has brought me great satisfaction over the years and through different stages. Now, looking back, I begin to appreciate my teaching experiences more. It has been my time with students that probably has been the most influential,” Huffman said.
Full-time artist Nicole Aquillano ’04 found a love for clay when she took a course with Huffman at Carlow. Although a mathematics major while in college, she made a career change years later to become a studio potter. She sells her ceramics line and exhibits nationally.
“It took me awhile to get where I wanted to be—making a living as a potter —but Dale’s words kept me going: ‘If you work hard enough at something, it’s bound to happen,'” Aquillano said.
An exhibition of this year’s Master Visual Artists opens at the Heinz History Center on December 14 and runs until September 2020.