"Phil!" I use to hear him bellow from out of his office above the ceramics lab; a ceramics lab startling pristine in its cleanliness which reflected Arthur Adair's strict discipline from his Navy experience. Chair of the department my first year at Rockford, he picked on me endlessly in his gruff manner and I enjoyed it greatly, sensing "a form of endearment". With sleeves rolled up past his mighty forearms he would demonstrate making a clay pot on the wheel that impressed to no end. Then the last fifteen minutes of class were always devoted to making the lab 'ship shape'. You could have eaten off the floor.
Unable to 'throw a pot' for my life, I was content to explore hand building and always worked the human figure into my work until functunal pieces disappeared entirely. Mr. Adair called them: "Guttke's nudie pots! You you should put 'em in a box with a hole and sell five cent peeps!" The pearls of wisdom just rolled from this man, and I thought the world of him. He said, "Don't fall in love with your pots," refering to the perclivity of things to crack or blow up. He presented a grotesque goblet I had fashioned to the class, saying, "If you can't make it good, make it big." When he retired that year, which saddened me greatly, I stood back feeling I wasn't qualified to add to his farewell book when he suddenly yelled, "Guttke, get over here and sign this!"
'I enjoy teaching very much," he once said. "I'm interested in my own creative work, of course, but I am not often moved to exhibit. Many artists teach from economic necessity and consider it drudgery. This can be detrimental to teaching.'
Clark Arts had the finest and most modern type of kiln developed to date by ceramic engineers. Yet Arthur Adair also designed gallery exhibits and theatrical productions and taught painting. "I don't stress the how of painting. Thus, I give few demonstrations. I feel every student must discover his own technique... this is often a painful experience.. but this is where the learning begins. If they are willing to bring order from this confusion, they begin to learn.'
The facade of Colman Library remains adorned with Mr. Adair's extraordinary ceramic plaques which represent a wide variey of cultures from around the world: Egyptian, Tibetan, Celtic, American Indian, East Indian, Mayan, Hebrew, Mesopotamian and many more.
He left Rockford to open his own studio in Taos, New Mexico. P.D. told me that often Georgia O'Keefe would stop by and visit with him. Letters from Mr. Adair to P.D. mentioned the Clay and Fiber Shop, shared in family activities, encouraged visits, passed greetings on to 'the Rockford College Gang' and ended with love from him and his wife. This brusque, talented, good natured man with a wife, daughters and grand-children was lost in the early 90's when that great heart unexpectedly stopped.
~My First Nudie Pot~
Robert John Guttke
Robert John Guttke