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William Underhill, renowned sculptor, emeritus professor at Alfred University, passes away

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Underhill sculpted the bronze fountain at the Fassett Greenspace in downtown Wellsville

ALFRED, NY – William Underhill, renowned sculptor and emeritus professor at Alfred University who cast the King Alfred Statue located in the center of campus, passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 16. Underhill was 88 and living in Wellsville, NY, at the time of his death.

Underhill taught sculpture in the Alfred University School of Art and Design, Division of Sculpture and Dimensional Studies, from 1969 until his retirement in 1997. In 1990, he installed the King Alfred Statue, cast in bronze, in the center of the Alfred University campus between Alumni Hall and what is now Powell Campus Center.

“I make metal bowls, bronze vessels cast by the lost wax process. The vessel is a primary form, irreducible and complete,” Underhill once said of his work. “Our subconscious speaks in poetry, in metaphors endlessly rich and varied. We are always making equivalents through all the senses, all media –movement, sound, light and color. Making metaphors, analogies – these are all poetry.”

Wayne Higby, director of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum, said the museum will open an exhibition of Underhill’s work on April 21, 2022. The exhibition, Higby said, will in large measure focus on vessel forms Underhill created from the early 1960 until early 2000.

Underhill earned his bachelor’s (1960) and master’s (1961) degrees in art from the University of California, Berkeley, studying under legendary ceramic artist Peter Voulkos. He developed a close, inspiring friendship with the renowned ceramic artist Stephen De Staebler, and worked with the celebrated architect Buckminster Fuller at the Berkeley School of Architecture, where he also studied with designer Charles Eames.

“If Voulkos was my guru for the pot as sculptural expression, Buck Fuller was my guru for the pot as engineering marvel,” Underhill once wrote.  He was much inspired by Fuller’s geodesic dome and led a student design team to construct a geodesic dome— the first of its kind to be built on the West Coast—as a bird sanctuary for the Oakland California Park Department. Underhill was on site studying and working with Voulkos when Voulkos made his first cast, bronze sculpture. At that time, Underhill began to turn clay work into bronze vessels, eventually establishing a unique path for himself as an artist.

In 1965, he and his family moved to Brooklyn when Underhill began teaching at the Pratt Institute. In 1968, he was invited to conduct a workshop at Alfred University and a year later the University offered him a teaching position. Underhill, who helped establish a bronze foundry at Berkeley, did the same for Alfred University’s School of Art and Design.

Underhill was the recipient of grants from the Tiffany Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council for the Arts. His  work is held in numerous permanent collections including the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA; the Oakland Art Museum, in Oakland, CA; the Museum of Arts and Design, in New York City; the Racine Art Museum, Racine WI; the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York City; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA.

Fassett Greenspace artist, spokeswoman, and friend of Underhill, Cassandra Bull, had this to say:

“We are sad to share that William (Bill) Underhill passed away on Feb 16, 2022. Bill was a renowned sculptor and emeritus professor at Alfred University who created our centerpiece bronze fountain in the Fassett GreenSpace. At age 88, he was a true gem in the community, and lived in Wellsville until the time of his death.

Bill also created the King Alfred Statue located in the center of Alfred University’s campus. He taught sculpture in the Alfred University School of Art and Design, Division of Sculpture and Dimensional Studies, from 1969 until his retirement in 1997. After that, Bill could be found teaching classes at the Wellsville Creative Art Center and had an art studio across from the Wellsville Post Office.

“I make metal bowls, bronze vessels cast by the lost wax process. The vessel is a primary form, irreducible and complete,” Bill once said of his work. “Our subconscious speaks in poetry, in metaphors endlessly rich and varied. We are always making equivalents through all the senses, all media –movement, sound, light and color. Making metaphors, analogies – these are all poetry.

”The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum will open an exhibition of Bill Underhill’s work on April 21, 2022. The exhibition will in large measure focus on vessel forms in cast metal and ceramic that he created from the early 1960’s until early 2000’s.Underhill earned his bachelor’s (1960) and master’s (1961) degrees in art from the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1965, he moved to Brooklyn and began teaching at the Pratt Institute. In 1968, he was invited to conduct a workshop at Alfred University and a year later the University offered him a teaching position. Underhill, who helped establish a bronze foundry at Berkeley, did the same for Alfred University’s School of Art and Design.

Rest in peace, Bill. And thank you for all you’ve done in Allegany County.”

The Underhill sculpture on Main Street Wellsville
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