Daily 49er

Tony Marsh named United States Artists Fellow

The Cal State Long Beach professor is recognized for his experimental and transformative art pieces.

Professor+Tony+Marsh+paints+the+finishing+touches+on+his+ceramics+piece.+
Professor Tony Marsh paints the finishing touches on his ceramics piece.

Professor Tony Marsh paints the finishing touches on his ceramics piece.

Lorraine Debbas | Daily 49er

Lorraine Debbas | Daily 49er

Professor Tony Marsh paints the finishing touches on his ceramics piece.

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If you would have asked Tony Marsh as a teenager where he thought his future was headed, chances are his answer wouldn’t have been “teacher.”

“All I wanted to do was play baseball,” Marsh said. “I didn’t see the value in being in English class. I’d get the key to the batting cages and be down there instead of being in class.”

When he was in high school, Marsh wasn’t very interested in academics. He didn’t pay much attention to his schoolwork and often found himself with subpar grades.

“I had taken a pottery class my last semester in high school… and I walked into that studio and I never walked out,” Marsh said. “I was horrible at it and I struggled, but I fell in love with it.”

Fast forward a few decades, and he’s traded in his bat and glove for paint brushes and a pottery wheel. Along with having his pieces featured in various galleries, the Cal State Long Beach ceramicist and professor was named a 2018 United States Artists Fellow in January.

Marsh was among 45 artists to receive the award, along with the $50,000 grant to use any way they choose. According to the organization, this fellowship recognizes artists for their “contributions to the field, honors their creative accomplishments, and supports their ongoing artistic and professional development.”

While the award in itself is an accomplishment, how the artists are chosen might be the most satisfying part.

Artists who receive this award are anonymously nominated and required to submit some of their work to be evaluated by discipline-specific panels comprised of various curators, scholars, historians and other professionals. The U.S. Artists’ Board of Trustees then selects and approves of the finalists.

Those selected for the fellowship are accomplished dancers, filmmakers and like Marsh, artists.

“To be recognized by those outside of the ceramics community is special,” Marsh said. “I think that’s the most gratifying part; this isn’t a ceramics award. It’s arts, film, writing, poetry and so on. They’re just trying to identify people of the arts in general. I was very touched by that.”

His unique style and longevity throughout the field has made Marsh a well-deserved choice.

“We’re so fortunate to not only have this internationally acclaimed artist [at Long Beach] – but he provides an excellent and amazing experience and serves as an excellent role model for our students,” said Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, dean of the college of the arts.

Marsh likes to experiment with his art. He doesn’t document his methods nor does he take notes. There’s an unorthodox process to it – a sense of curiosity and uncertainty in his work. He’s fascinated by the process of making his pieces, a sort of alchemy as he describes it.

“Ceramics is very transformational,” Marsh said. “You get all these things together and subject them to heat, you don’t know what’s going to happen and I like that. There’s a sense of discovery every time you’re working.”

Marsh also currently serves as the first director of the newly established Center for Contemporary Ceramics at the university.

Professor Chris Miles, who is head of the ceramics department and was instrumental in the development of the new center, had high praise for Marsh in his new role.

“It’s completely appropriate that Tony is the first director of the center because the center is an institutionalization of a legacy that he started, because he knows how to do it better than anyone, has more contacts in the field than anyone, and is so revered in the field of contemporary ceramics,” said Professor Miles.

Those around him now are quick to acknowledge the character Marsh possesses and even quicker to offer their thoughts on him not only as an accomplished ceramicist and professor, but as a person.

“Tony is the kind of person who instills confidence in his students and encourages them to do their best,” said former student Tony Baker. “He helps guide them through the complicated journey of being an artist.”

Marsh doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. His goal is to continue making art as long as he can.

“Some things you have to retire from, but I love doing this and it’s important to me,” he said. “I hope I can make art for the rest of my life.”

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