John Van Alstine, ’74, MFA, 2023 Professional Achievement Award Recipient
“The sculpture, glass and ceramics studios were separate from the campus, and we relished their real world grittiness and our distance from the rest of campus. That, among many other things gleaned during my time at Kent, instilled a sense of creative independence and resourcefulness.”
John Van Alstine, ’74, is viewed as one of the most renowned abstract sculptors of his generation. His work is held in many major museum collections across the United States and Europe including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. He has mounted more than 45 solo exhibitions in the U.S., Europe and Asia and was one of 100 sculptors selected from a pool of 3,000 worldwide applicants to have his artwork on permanent display at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. John has also created more than 18 major outdoor public works including a 35-foot-tall red sculpture shaped as an aircraft wing at the Indianapolis Airport and a compelling sculptural 9/11 memorial monument “Tempered by Memory” in Saratoga Springs, New York, using steel remnants from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
He is a recipient of many individual arts grants and fellowships from the Gottlieb Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Tiffany Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts and many state and local artist’s grants.
Howard N. Fox, former curator of the Hirshhorn Museum, has followed John’s art since 1978, and included him in his first major exhibition “Directions,” presented at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. At the time, John was only four years out of Kent State. “He has produced a body of work over several decades that has honored his initial sculptural interests, gaining widespread recognition for both his studio art and public art commissions internationally,” said Fox.
In 2022, he was awarded the prestigious Liu Kaiqu Award, bronze prize, by the China Sculptural Institute for “Catapulta 3-19.” John’s sculpture was selected from more than 1,200 applications and is on permanent public display in the Wuhu Sculpture Park in Wuhu, China.
His work has been beautifully presented in a 280-page hardcover book, “John Van Alstine: Sculpture 1971-2018,” surveying 50 years of work published by The Artist Book Foundation, and in 2023, a companion volume "American Vistas: The Life and Art of John Van Alstine" was released to critical acclaim, squarely placing his work in the American landscape tradition.
John attributes much of his success as an artist to his time at Kent State. Graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, he also took with him a newfound sense of independence. “The university had just finished the new art building which was bright, shiny and well equipped,” he said. “The sculpture, glass and ceramics studios were separate from the campus, and we relished their real world grittiness and our distance from the rest of campus. That, among many other things gleaned during my time at Kent, instilled a sense of creative independence and resourcefulness.”
He fondly remembers Henry Halem, Kent State professor emeritus of art. “Henry was in charge of the glass department. He was a dynamic and charismatic person, artist and professor, and often worked the furnaces alongside students in the studio. His enthusiasm and optimism were infectious and inspirational and got us thinking we should, and more importantly could, seriously pursue art as a career,” John said.
After graduating from Kent State, he attended Cornell University to complete a Master of Fine Arts in 1976. He became a faculty member teaching sculpture and drawing at the University of Wyoming and Cornell University, and later was at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 1986, he voluntarily left his tenure-track teaching position and moved to the NYC area to pursue studio work full time. In 1987, he purchased a 19th century industrial complex on the banks of the Sacandaga River and returned to the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where he now lives and works in the restored historic structure with his wife, internationally recognized Austrian sculptor, Caroline Ramersdorfer.