Earl McCutchen was a teacher and an artist who worked with ceramics and glass. He taught at the University of Georgia (UGA) for more than forty years, and as a ceramics instructor he played a significant role in the development of art education at the university. As an artist working with glass, he was at the forefront of his field. He adopted the material years before it became popular with individual studio craftsmen, constantly experimented with innovative techniques, and created a distinctive body of work.
Earl Stuart McCutchen was born in 1918 in Ida Grove, Iowa, and studied ceramics engineering at Iowa State University from 1936 to 1939. He received his B.F.A. in 1941 and his M.A. in 1949 in ceramic art from Ohio State University.
In 1941-42 McCutchen taught briefly at UGA, where he established the first university ceramics department in the Southeast before returning to the Midwest as a research engineer at the Ohio State University Research Foundation. He joined the art faculty at UGA in 1945 and remained there until his retirement in 1983. In 1967 he was named an Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor, and in 1984 the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia named him an Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art.
McCutchen served on numerous committees at UGA, often taught classes outside of the university, and judged many regional exhibitions. During 1952-53, after receiving one of the first Sarah Moss Fellowships at the university, he traveled to Florence, Italy, where he conducted advanced study in ceramics at the Istituto d’Arte Statale. From 1961 to 1964 he served as a representative to the Southeast Regional Assembly of the American Craft Council, and from 1965 to 1968 he served as a craftsman-trustee on the board of the American Craft Council.
McCutchen was particularly interested in the science behind his craft, especially concerning glazes. In 1944 he published an article in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society on strontium (an alkaline earth metal) and its properties in glazes. In the summer of 1949 he taught as an instructor of glaze work at the School for American Craftsmen in Alfred, New York. At UGA he experimented with local clays and methods of glaze application.
Around 1950 McCutchen began experimenting with glass, utilizing both his knowledge of clay bodies to create molds and his ceramics kilns to heat the glass. The glassworking techniques he used included slumping (heating glass until it bends, often to fit a mold, without noticeable change in the thickness of the glass), fusing (heating compatible sheets of glass or other vitreous materials until they bond chemically), and laminating (fusing materials between sheets of glass). Other artists known for working with such techniques at this time are Maurice Heaton in New York and Frances and Michael Higgins in Illinois.
McCutchen’s slumped and laminated glass differed from the works of his contemporaries; instead of using new glass of pure and consistent makeup, he often used old glass and mixed it with unexpected materials—chicken wire, aluminum foil, copper screen, iron filings, and gold leaf. His works in glass often feature interesting visual elements resulting from the chemical reactions of the unusual combinations of materials.
In 1960 McCutchen worked with UGA’s new television station, WGTV, to develop a series titled About Ceramics, which he wrote and presented, and through which he demonstrated techniques used by potters. In 1961 the National Educational Television and Radio Center carried a second series of six programs, also titled About Ceramics, which was broadcast nationally for more than a decade.
McCutchen’s work is represented in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass in New York; the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio; the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution in New York City; and the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.
McCutchen died on October 24, 1985, in Athens.