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Colleagues, artists remember KSU ceramics leader Kirk Mangus

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

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Artist Kirk Mangus in this undated photo. Mangus, who died of a cerebral aneurysm Nov. 24, was a celebrated and much-loved artist who had served as head of ceramics at Kent State University since 1985. (Photo courtesy Kent State University)

They came by the hundreds to say goodbye to Kirk Mangus.

Mangus, who died of a cerebral aneurysm Nov. 24, was a celebrated and much-loved artist who had served as head of ceramics at Kent State University since 1985. He also taught at numerous other institutions, and was a lecturer, visiting artist and resident artist in China, Japan, Korea, France, Italy, Finland, Lithuania, Canada and throughout the United States.

“There were a good 300 people here,” said Anderson Turner, director of Kent State University Galleries, who hosted the Saturday reception and memorial service at KSU School of Art Gallery and auditorium.

Mangus, who was 60, is survived by his wife, Eva Kwong, a part-time faculty member in ceramics at Kent State University, as well as his son Jasper and daughter Una.

A prolific artist whose ceramics and drawings have been exhibited and collected worldwide, Mangus was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, four Ohio Arts Council fellowships and many other awards.

“The gallery was absolutely full,” Turner added. “It was good. There was a lot of laughter, which Kirk would have liked. I think Eva was happy with the event.”

Many of those who attended attached notes, drawings and poems of appreciation in Mangus’ memory to walls in the gallery, where his work was displayed and a video of him was played. Others sent their sentiments to Kwong, who shared a few (some have been edited):

Bruce Metcalf, metalsmith, author, critic and former head of the metals program at KSU: “I loved his work … so vigorous, so immediate, so direct. … Among those who know clay, he will not be forgotten.”

Tony Marsh, professor, head of ceramics, California State University at Long Beach: “I was visiting Kirk and Eva at Kent State many summers ago and was sitting with Kirk in his office. He reached under his desk, opened a small test kiln and took this piece out and gave it to me, still hot. … Kirk had about 100 more of these sublime 2-inch painted pots at home made between classes both at and under his desk. … Kirk simply needed to make and share.”

John Balestreri, MFA-KSU 1988, head of ceramics, Bowling Green University: “Working with Kirk was like working with five people. He could be doing sculpture, pots, ink drawings, Raku, wood firing, cone 1 with slips on the same day. The range of conversation and perspective could be equally vast from day to day. His facility with material, whether clay or paint, pots or the figure, was unrivaled. He was a creative tour de force.”

Rimas Vis Girda teaches ceramics at the University of Illinois School of Art and Design: “It seems just yesterday, not 40 years ago that an energetic, short, curly haired kid showed up … From the very start his energy, enthusiasm, fervor and passion for ceramics was evident and obvious. Over the years I watched his work mature but retain a raw, no-pretensions, directly from the gut, presence that was captivating. His performance as a visiting artist was exceptional, and I used him mercilessly to energize my students.”

Lenny Cabanero-Harvey, BA in art education, Kent State University; art teacher, Arts Magnet High School, Tampa, Fla.: “He was a mentor, a crazy genius, and international potter. He is one of the reasons I am who I am today. He, in his own way, helped me believe I could create … and lead. And he never made me feel like crap from almost destroying the newest electric kiln.”

Jessie Erin Haas, 2011 BFA graduate: “Not only did he teach us to make, he taught us to better live a life of creation and to love. He guided us through all of the trials of life. He taught us to read poetry, to draw mice, to hang them both on the fridge. … He boosted us from our sorrows with strangely shaped sentences, poodle sculptures, insane pop culture, New Yorker comics, and blue luster frosting drips. He forged a family of familiars and strangers. He taught me what art is. What community is. I love you, Kirk Mangus, wherever you are. Your effects continue to amaze me.”

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. She can be emailed at dtgshinn@neo.rr.com.