David R. MacDonald, internationally renowned artist and professor emeritus of ceramics in the School of Art, will be recognized with an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University at the 2023 Commencement on Sunday, May 14, at the JMA Wireless Dome.
MacDonald uses clay as a medium for exploring the form and function of utilitarian vessels, his African heritage, themes of anger and injustice, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
A professor in the School of Art and Design (currently the School of Art) from 1971-2008, MacDonald has taught art and ceramics to legions of Syracuse University students, mentored both students and fellow faculty members, and co-founded the Community Folk Art Center, a cultural and artistic hub committed to artists of the African diaspora, housed in the University’s African American studies department.
MacDonald received an undergraduate degree in art education from the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia) in 1968 and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1971. He fell in love with pottery as an artform at Hampton under the mentorship of noted African American ceramic artist Joseph W. Gilliard and was heavily influenced by ceramicists Bob Stull and John Stephenson while studying at the University of Michigan.
In his early years as an artist, MacDonald’s work was influenced by the social and political issues of the time, including the Civil Rights Movement, producing ceramic work that reflected his anger and frustration as a young Black man. As he expanded his study of East and South African culture, MacDonald became more interested in and influenced by the strength of his cultural heritage.
His abstract paintings and sculptures fuse the art of the ready-made with assemblage, minimalism and postminimalism using unremarkable materials such as raw and painted wood, bricks, paper, cement and plaster. Surface decoration, mark making and the use of carved patterns are all hallmarks of his ceramics work.
MacDonald has held the distinction of professor emeritus since retiring from the VPA faculty in 2008. His work is housed in the permanent collections of the Studio Museum in Harlem (New York), Montclair Art Museum (New Jersey) and Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse). He has been honored with the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts’ Excellence in Teaching Award and the National Crafts Council’s Master Craftsman Award, and presented a solo exhibition at the Everson titled “The Power of Pattern: New Work by David MacDonald,” all in 2011. He also received the Trailblazer Award, which celebrates those who personify exemplary leadership, selfless acts and dedication to Syracuse University, from the University in 2017.
MacDonald’s pottery was featured in the nationally televised PBS series “A Craftsman’s Legacy” in 2016. He continues to create art in his home studio and occasionally returns to VPA as a guest lecturer.