Fiat Closing Circles

For nearly two centuries, Alfred University has been a beacon of light for generations of students who have come to this magical valley to study, learn, grow, and go out into the world to make meaningful and lasting differences.

Our success as an institution is comprised of the collective success stories that emanate from our University.  None of the individual successes occur in a vacuum. Rather, they result from the efforts of dedicated faculty, staff, alumni and friends who care deeply about Alfred University and the transformative effect it has on students’ lives.

Two such people are Marlin Miller ’54, ’89 HD and ’19 HD, and Helen Drutt English ’19 HD. Their support and advocacy of Alfred University spans decades and was evident again just this past weekend.

Marlin, one of our University’s most generous benefactors, announced at a dinner Friday evening that he and his wife, Ginger, are giving the majority of their personal ceramic art collection to the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum. The collection is made up of more than 200 pieces, with approximately 60 of them on display at the Museum as part of “Materiality: Masterworks from the Miller Ceramic Art Collection,” an exhibition that opened Thursday, Sept. 26, and is on view through Dec. 30.

Marlin Miller talks ’54 at the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum’s opening reception for “Materiality: Masterworks from the Miller Ceramic Art Collection,” as his wife, Ginger, looks on. On Friday, Marlin and Ginger announced they would be giving the majority of their collection to the Museum

The gift’s significance cannot be overstated. The collection dates back to 1970, when Marlin and his late first wife, Marcianne (Maple) Miller ’55, acquired a lidded bowl crafted by legendary ceramic artist Val Cushing ’52. While he studied ceramic engineering at our University, Marlin acquired a love of art through Marcianne as well as through his college roommate, who was an art and design major.

Today, the Miller collection includes items by other renowned artists, many with connections to Alfred University: Robert Turner ’49 M.F.A., Wayne Higby, John Gill ’75 M.F.A., Andrea Gill ’74,  Anne Currier, David Shaner ’59 M.F.A., Ken Ferguson ’58 M.F.A., Ken Price ’59 M.F.A., Ed Eberle ’72 M.F.A., Tony Marsh ’88 M.F.A., Charles Fergus Binns, Theodore Randall ’49 M.F.A., Daniel Rhodes, Eddie Dominguez ’83 M.F.A., Chris Gustin ’77 M.F.A., Betty Woodman ’50, Paula Winokur, Bob Winokur ’58 M.F.A., Chris Staley ’80 M.F.A., Linda Sormin ’03 M.F.A., Andy Shaw ’00 M.F.A., and Aysha Peltz ’95.

Quite simply, the collection is an assemblage of work by legends, and a decades-long testament to the distinction of our School of Art and Design, which has long been recognized as being one of the top ceramic art schools in the country. Having the collection ultimately return to the place that inspired Marlin’s love of art is a wonderful way for him to close the circle.

Marlin’s continued generosity – his gifts have built the Miller Performing Arts Center, Miller Theater, and Alfred Ceramic Art Museum; renovated Tefft Hall and underwritten the fabulous Link that is being finished between Tefft and Moskowitz Halls; and endowed numerous professorships and scholarships – reflects his love and devotion to his alma mater.

At Friday evening’s dinner, we were able to surprise Helen Drutt English, a giant in the field of modern and contemporary craft, with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree. Helen was recognized for her long-time support and advocacy of Alfred University’s School of Art and Design, its faculty/staff, and graduates of our ceramic art program.

Helen Drutt English (center) with Wayne Higby, President Mark Zupan.
Helen Drutt English (center) received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree Friday. She is shown here with Wayne Higby, director of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum, and Alfred University President Mark Zupan.

Helen began collecting art in the 1950s and today is a noted gallerist, author, lecturer, and curatorial consultant. In 1973, she founded the Helen Drutt Gallery, one of the first galleries in the United States committed to modern and contemporary craft. Over her career, she has organized a number of major exhibitions in the United States and abroad. In 2004, she facilitated the gift of a collection of 74 works—including ceramics, furniture, and jewelry—worth approximately $2 million, to Russia’s Hermitage Museum.

In presenting her for her honorary degree, Wayne Higby, director and curator of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum, said, “None of the pioneers of the contemporary cultural marketplace has been more important to Alfred University and to the advancement of ceramic art than Helen Drutt English.”

Wayne relayed how, during a visit to Alfred University in 1997, Drutt English arranged to see a thesis exhibition of Sun Koo Yuh ’97 M.F.A., a Korean-American student. A month later at the Helen Drutt Gallery in Philadelphia, she mounted Sun Koo Yuh’s first solo exhibition.

“During the exhibition, his work was acquired by eight private collections as well as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art,” Wayne said. “Today, Sun Koo Yuh is one of the world’s most renowned ceramic artists. This is but a single example of Helen Drutt English’s commitment to young artists.”

Indeed, over the years Drutt English has exhibited and promoted the work of numerous ceramic artists affiliated with Alfred University. They include Wayne, whose work has been shown at more than 20 exhibitions at Drutt English’s galleries in Philadelphia and New York City and who she initially connected with Marlin Miller. In 2018, she began work with the National Museum of Art in Sweden on an exhibition that includes the work of several ceramic artists connected to Alfred, including Higby, John and Andrea Gill, Linda Sikora, Robert Turner, and Val Cushing.

Watch video of Friday’s dinner celebration

Advocates and supporters: Alfred University has had many; Marlin Miller and Helen Drutt English are two of its greatest. Through their efforts, the light emanating from Alfred University only shines brighter.

Please join me in thanking Ginger and Marlin Miller for the marvelous bequest commitment of their private ceramic art collection that they have made to our Alfred Ceramic Art Museum. And please join me in congratulating Dr. Helen Drutt English on her well-deserved honorary doctorate, thereby officially becoming an alumna of our University.

Fiat Closing Circles!