45-year Western ceramics professor retires

Western Ceramics Professor Pat McCormick instructs his beginning ceramics students to display their final work on the studio tables. Each student took a turn in explaining their art pieces, what inspired them, some challenges they faced and what their favorite piece was. Photo by Brianna Kuplent / WWU Communications and Marketing intern

Western Ceramics Professor Pat McCormick gives a verbal evaluation of a student’s ceramics piece during a class in the Fine Arts Annex. During the lecture, McCormick gave advice to all students on how to mix and apply glazes properly and taught them that the chemical properties of some glazes are important when layering glazes on a piece. Photo by Brianna Kuplent / WWU Communications and Marketing intern

Ceramics professor Pat McCormick teaches his last group of students during a class in fall quarter, 2013. Photo by Brianna Kuplent / WWU Communications and Marketing intern

Pat McCormick and his ceramics class built a mammoth and made it look like it sunk in the mud behind Miller Hall in 2012. File photo by Matthew Anderson / WWU

Brianna Kuplent
Communications and Marketing intern

The ceramics studio in Western Washington University’s Art Annex is splattered with different glazes and mixtures used throughout the quarter, counters covered in thick chunks of colors like “ferguson yellow” and “tomato red” topped with a layer of clay dust.

There to clean it before winter break and put the final glazed pieces in the kiln is Western Ceramics Professor Pat McCormick.

After 45 years of teaching ceramics at Western, McCormick is cleaning the studios and emptying his office for the last time. He is retiring from his teaching position in Western’s Art Department at the end of the quarter.

During his position as professor, McCormick has participated in over 80 exhibitions over the last 45 years, and his work is housed in galleries and in university and private collections worldwide, McCormick says.

He is one of the premier ceramicists in the Northwest, says Art Department Chair Gaye Green about McCormick. Even the dean of the College of the Fine and Performing Arts, Christopher Spicer, has one of McCormick’s works in his collection, she says.

The department has not yet picked McCormick’s replacement, Green says.

McCormick taught all three ceramics classes and was head of the ceramics department. Some of his work with students was featured in Western’s Window Magazine when he and his ceramics class built a mammoth and made it look like it sunk in the mud behind Miller Hall in 2012.

Some of the bricks around Western’s campus, with designs or statements like “work hard, be humble,” and “why are you here now?”, were made by students in previous beginning ceramics classes for the last 35 years.

Interacting with motivated students is what he has enjoyed most from the classes, McCormick says.

“Clay work tends to be seductive, and I have always enjoyed watching the love for the material develop and mature,” he says. From those student interactions, McCormick says he always tried to instill what he calls the ‘art of common sense’ in students, the ability to work through a problem rather than look for the answer on the Internet.

Jamie Bennett, sophomore and Studio Art major, said that the beginning ceramics class was her first time sculpting and glazing clay.

She enjoyed sculpting, but "once it gets to the firing and glazing process it gets a little sketchy," Bennett says. A cylindrical container with elephants etched into the side charging at the viewer, representing movement, became her favorite piece, she says.

McCormick has helped her like ceramics, and she wants to do more of it as part of her major, Bennett says.

Former ceramics student and assistant in the Art Department office Brianna McAfee says she enjoyed McCormick’s holiday costumes, and his visits to the office to ask how they were doing.

“He’s very genuine,” she says. “Ceramics won’t seem quite the same.”

“As a colleague, Pat is extremely loyal and very humorous. I have enjoyed his friendship, love of family and penchant for eccentricity throughout the many years that I have known him." Green says.

After the quarter, and his tenure as professor, is finished McCormick plans to continue his art work and spend more time with family and friends in retirement. He also says he will further pursue his interests in traveling, wood work, hiking, cooking Indian recipes, gardening and playing the banjo.

Although McCormick has always thought of himself as a shy person – “which no one who knows me believes,” he says – teaching has helped him improve his social skills and develop a sense of humor.

Trading in his office for a larger learning environment, McCormick says he will miss the students the most, and the routine he established that revolved around teaching.