Rod Northcutt recipient of the 2018 Curry Award

Annual award honors outstanding faculty in the College of Creative Arts

northcutt photo receiving the Curry AwardRod Northcutt, Associate Professor of Art at Miami University, is the recipient of the 2018 Crossan Hays Curry award. The annual award was presented during the College of Creative Arts recognition ceremony, held May 20, 2018 at Goggin Arena.

Each year, the Curry award honors outstanding faculty in the College of Creative Arts who have demonstrated excellence in teaching, research, and service. The award was established in 1994 by an endowment named for Professor Emeritus Crossan Hays Curry, a former faculty member in the Department of Art who was greatly admired by students for his teaching and his art making.

Teaching Experience

Rod Northcutt serves as the head of the sculpture area in the Department of Art at Miami University. His teaching focuses on both beginning and advanced levels of undergraduate courses in sculpture in addition to art foundations courses.

At the graduate level Rod works with advising MFA candidates in various areas of studio art in creative research, technical assistance, and the theory and practice of socially engaged art (SEA), the cornerstone of his own creative research.

“I strive to connect participants to social issues, their environment, and their own creativity through work that stems from community discussion, participation, and cross-disciplinary collaboration,” said Rod. “I am fortunate to have a position that allows for the constant evolution of my teaching style and content as I strive to help my students learn to think critically, to be innovative, and importantly to learn “making” skills,” said Northcutt. “While some learning happens in the studio, much of it happens outside of class, and year-round.”

Rod has presented and chaired panels at the International Sculpture Conference, Mid-America College Art Association, the College Art Association, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the SouthEast College Art Conference.

In an effort to maintain safety and in keeping with how contemporary sculpture is made, Professor Northcutt has designed Miami’s sculpture studio to support woodworking, stone carving, welding/metal fabrication, metal casting, electronics, soft sculpture (textile), installation art, and video. He employs students to assist other sculpture students, and meets with them regularly to teach them how to change band saw blades, service welders, repair machines, and learn other practical skills.

Since 2012, Northcutt has been teaching a summer credit woodworking course called, Woodworking Unplugged, at Yestermorrow Design-Build School in Vermont. This skill-based class is an intensive in which he works with artists, architects, and designers to use wood creatively using only non-electric tools to consider how to be productive with a smaller carbon footprint.

Teaching Philosophy

“I have an MFA in Sculpture and I teach courses titled, “sculpture,” yet I don’t call myself a sculptor but prefer maker, artist, citizen, and collaborator,” said Northcutt.

Northcutt states that his work presents both what he was taught in school as well as what he learned in his practice as an artist. He feels that it is the job of all artists/scholars to be actively researching the current field, and not to remain in the past. He brings historical examples to contextualize the present, and helps students to explore new ways of thinking that borrow from other disciplines.

“Skills are important and I teach those that are valuable for contemporary communication rather than those that support traditional sculpture,” says Northcutt. “Skills are often linked to the material we work with rather than a well known or expected process of art-making. For instance, if we need to weld then we do it, but if we need to skirt a trailer with vinyl, we use that new skillset as well. Likewise, if we need to learn basic woodworking to create a part of the sculpture, we do it, but if we are making a collaborative video as part of our communication, we turn that same woodshop into a video studio. I admit that I am no master of any one trade, but I am fortunate to be skilled in cobbling multiple skills together to support learning.”

Students of Professor Northcutt take frequent field trips to museums, nature centers, natural areas, and social service centers to explore topics outside of what applies within the studio. That exploration includes trips to Chicago to visit studios of working artists, galleries, museums, and fabrication companies to explore career opportunities.

Meaningful Miami Moments

Art 271 is a service learning class where sculpture students learn through real experiences and help community groups in need. Partners include the Oxford Choice Pantry (for redesigned way-finding), the Family Resource Center (design and build for new signage), and the Bruckner Nature Center (design and build devices for animal rehabilitation).

students skirting trailers“One project spanned two beginning sculpture classes and took a year to complete,” said Northcutt. “The first class (Fall 2014), worked with People United for Self Help (PUSH) and the FRC to learn about the most salient aspects of poverty. Most of the people at or below the poverty line in Oxford live in one of the two larger mobile home parks and face a consistent challenge of frozen pipes due to inadequate vinyl skirting around the base (trailers sit about 30” above grade with water pipes underneath),” he said.

Sculpture students wrote grants to purchase skirting, created an application for aid, and learned the basics of heat tape and window insulation. They organized an all-day event at the FRC (next to the Miami Mobile Home Park) with meals, application assistance, and insulation demonstrations.

The second class (Fall 2015) ordered the vinyl and were assigned a vinyl sculpture project which entailed creating a full-scale mock-up of a trailer section to learn how to apply the skirting. The class then teamed up with volunteers one Saturday to re-skirt 11 trailers.

“Students learned a great deal from that project about compassion and the importance of good citizenship, but also about the complex and sometimes crushing psychology of poverty,” said Northcutt.

kinetics festivalFrom 2010 to 2016 Rod Northcutt co-administered the Oxford Kinetics Festival (OKF), an annual, day-long event showcasing the creativity of students, community members, and professional artists featuring exhibitions, film screenings, performance art, music, a kinetic sculpture race, food, kids’ activities, and skill sharing.

Northcutt stated, “from a meager start of 40 participants in 2010, we grew the event to boast over 3000 in its final year. We managed regional and university partnerships, wrote grants, collaborated with other kinetic races/festivals, promoted the event, managed web and social media identities, and conducted fundraising.”

The Kinetics Festival included hosted design-build workshops at the Miami sculpture studio prior to the OKF where students, community members, and faculty families received design consultation and assistance in the fabrication of a vehicle for the kinetic sculpture race at the OKF. Northcutt co-founded and still co-directs Maketank Inc.(MTI) a 501c3, with a three-part mission: 1) produce creative projects that connect community members who normally do not interact, 2) promote the sharing of skills, and 3) create individuals’ confidence in their own creativity. MTI had many projects, most of which involved mentoring students through service learning. These cross-disciplinary collaborations between Miami University students and faculty, K-12 schools, local institutions, and professionals provided opportunities for Miami students to develop unique service skills. Student-driven projects included STEAM enhancements for various levels of education including the Middle School STEAM Club, the 9th Grade Physical Science Initiative, and an after-school Big Brothers/Big Sisters shadow puppet theater and stop-motion animation projects.

“All art is about seeing in one way or another. Professor Northcutt is guiding the students to question and consider all parts of society, then act as an activist through the practice of sculpture,” said Rob Robbins, chair of the Department of Art. “Professor Northcutt is bringing a lot more to the student experience than the opportunity to acquire a set of sculpture proficiencies—he is leading them to citizenship and showing them the value of community.”

Past Curry Award Recipients

Previous Curry award recipients include Gary A. Speck (2017), Pepper Stetler (2016), Murali Parandandi (2015), Harvey Thurmer (2013), Thomas Effler (2012), Robert Benson (2011), Julia Guichard (2010), Sara Butler (2009), Chris Tanner (2008), Sandra Seefeld (2007), John Reynolds (2006), Brenda Mitchell (2005), Jim Killy (2004), Mary E.M. Harris (2003), Michele Gingras (2002), Steven Shumway (2001), Peg Faimon (2000), John Weigand (1999), Clive Getty (1998), William Albin (1997), Tom Dutton (1996), and Crossan Hays Curry (1995).