Jack Marshall, Emeritus Professor of Art

Dr. Jack Marshall
Dr. Jack Marshall; 1992 photo taken by Dwain Hammett ’92 in the KSC sculpture studio (a.k.a. The Factory)

The KSC community was saddened to hear that  John (Jack) Marshall, professor emeritus of art, passed away on Tuesday, July 7th.

Dr. Marshall taught sculpture at KSC from 1973 until he retired in 2002. Many community members will recall walking by the sculpture studio – at all hours of the day – to see him working away on one of his projects. Or, more likely, they just heard him working; often, he had so many works in progress that he was hidden behind them.

Dr. Marshall had a BA in design from Massart, an MFA from Boston University, and a PhD from the Yale School of Architecture. His works have been shown in Massachusetts at Fuller Memorial Museum in Brockton, the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, the Baak Gallery in Cambridge,  and the Carl Siembab, Sunne Savage, and Ellie Reiglehaupt galleries on Newbury St. in Boston. His work has appeared in NYC at the Whitney Biennial, the Awards Exhibit of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Institute of Architecture, Leve House, the New School, the Allan Stone Gallery and in a solo show at Ward Nasse Gallery in Soho. He has had European shows in Milan, Pisa, Florence, Copenhagen, Geneva, and Zurich.

Drop us a comment if you remember this prolific artist, and visit his website, Marshall’s Art.

12 thoughts on “Jack Marshall, Emeritus Professor of Art

  1. In Tribute to Jack

    “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
    A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
    To him…
    a touch is a blow,
    a sound is a noise,
    a misfortune is a tragedy,
    a joy is an ecstasy,
    a friend is a lover,
    a lover is a god,
    and failure is death.
    Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – – – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”
    -Pearl Buck-

  2. Jack Marshall was my college professor, mentor, and a wonderfully eccentric human being who I was glad to consider a friend. He died this week, and I feel compelled to eulogize him for his role in helping to shape the course of my life.

    Elegantly discombobulated, he was the sort of man who found beauty and hilarity in ordinary things, often simultaneously. With a sense of timing all his own, he tended to speak verbosely, adding details and making pictures with his words while laughing with his eyes. He could really lose you in a story, and, just when you thought, “Where is he GOING with this?”—the whole picture would reveal itself, and you would say, “Oh! I get it. I understand.” The “pictures” were often his own private jokes, and sometimes you laughed with him, and sometimes you rolled your eyes. (Sometimes, you rolled your eyes and then, only later, would realize the humor in his words. His wit could sneak up on you like that). He was passionate about his work, generous with his opinions, and occasionally aloof. He was also a decent cook who valued the good life, superior automobiles, and beautiful women, as well as being easy and delightful to exchange banter with.

    I brought my children and husband to meet Jack, when we were spontaneously passing through the Keene area, a couple of years ago, after letting WAY too much time pass incommunicado. We only stayed for about an hour, but I was glad to find that he was the “same old Jack”, and that—even after more than ten years–we were able to comfortably “pick up” where we had left off. I noticed that he had given a new home to one of his “women on bike seats” sculptures. It was truncated and sort of half-emerging from the earth in his garden. As I was pointing it out to my son and daughter, I said, “Look, guys..” and in the same moment, both Jack and I completed the sentence in exactly the same way, “…she really rode that bike right into the ground!” His sense of humor could also just be simple and buoyant like that. I guess you would expect lightness from the sculptor of the series entitled “The Law of Levity” in which heavy objects are strapped down, but seem to be breaking their ties with gravity, and are attempting to float away.

    I had the pleasure of working with Jack in the foundry in Pietrasanta during this “Levity” period. In fact, I was among the first group of students he brought over to Italy with him to work in the foundry. That experience opened my eyes to the world at large and gave me the fever to live abroad and to experience myself out-of-context. Jack helped open up the world to me, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without having been able to call him my mentor and friend.

    Grazie e buona notte, Maestro.

  3. Jack paid me the biggest compliment I have ever received, or could ever hope for: One day while instructing myself and another student, he was encouraging us to break away from the compulsion to make representational pieces. After going into some detailed explanation of the way one uses one’s brain when looking at things and when creating, and how sometimes one needs to trust one’s unconscious vision, he told the other student she needed to get over her preconceptions of how things are “supposed” to be. Then he turned to me and said “not you, though; you’re free.”

    These seemingly simple words came as praise, as permission, as warning, and as validation. I’ve repeated them to myself many times over the years.

    Thank you Jack.

  4. How does one do this thing of putting into words the incredible loss of a dear friend? Words do not represent this type of loss; this type of meaning. Maybe words form a picture and a sense of things but ultimately this kind of love and this kind of loss goes way beyond words. “Therefore what we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence”. Wittgenstein knew it one hundred years ago. Jack knew it in his heart and soul and that is why I liked him and loved him so much.

    My dear beloved friend Jack knew better than anyone what words were capable of and where they failed. I think that is the reason that he chose art over product design and over architecture even though he flirted with architecture at Yale and received a Masters of Environmental Design degree under Charles Moore from the architecture school. He was a sculptor first and foremost. He could spin a phrase like a surgeon with a scapel and use words to make language a game in much the way one uses a strategy in chess to acheive the ultimate move,”…checkmate”. I would often hear him say that word as well. His kindness was undeniable but he would box with anyone who challenged him and most of the time he would win even if the punches delivered took the form of just words. It was annoying how often he would win with words.

    I remember that he started the Introduction to Sculpture class that I took with him as my first art class at Keene State College talking about the cave paintings of Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain as being representations of the art work that was pre-verbal and pre-language. “Forget language and words right now and focus on letting your hands doing all the thinking…”, he would say this while we had our arms up to our elbows in wet slippery clay as well as our feet and toes clogged with the clay from the studio floor where we had worked it out to make it usable. This was stunning news for me and my fellow classmates that it was permissable to turn off language and thought for a while and to attempt to be present and receive the presents of creativity. We slipped and slid on the clay on the floor of the studio laughing all the time before scraping it up and attempting to make slabs that were one foot squares without the use of a ruler. “All of the work that we evidence in those remarkable cave paintings came before language was created.” This was revelatory to me. There was great freedom in learning this. There was great freedom and joy and laughter in the sounds of the clay as it squished and oozed between our toes. It was immersion into joy using the clay as a way to unlock creativity that had been squelched in other classes at Keene State College. Smart man to not allow any slow flirting with art by his students. All or nothing. Few people dropped the class after oozing clay covered their feet and hands on that first day.

    And his own work revealed a sense of the complexity of life, of gender, of sexuality, ecstacy and levity. There were puns and there were mind benders in everything he did. He never forgot the essence of playing with form, or with words, with structures and with showing up for llife.

    He could be difficult at times and he struggled just as all artist’s have over the centuries internally and externally. He loved life on good days. On tough days he made art work. Once I came upon him late in the evening as the sun darkened in the cold Fall sky sitting at his black science lab studio table surrounded by old sculptures he had done in the past, looking out over the empty parking lot; a standing figure statue of his dear deceased brother entitled the “King of Pain” close by staring out into the parking lot as well, wearing a metal medical halo, but draped with Jack’s leather jacket as if he was keeping his brother warm even though his brother had died seven years earlier. In the school sculpture studio, a space that he told me had been a boiler room that he had converted during his first years at Keene State College, (a smart guerilla move to get sculpture more firmly into the curriculum using help from students and a small handful of administrators), He made sculpture at night. Surrounding him was a mass array of sculpture from all the years of his teaching at Keene State College. As the industrial boiler room lights shone down on him from the twenty foot tall ceiling as he worked at his sewing machine with the little light on the machine illuminating his hands I slowly watched him as I walked accross the empty parking lot and approached quietly and with caution. Our conversation was brief. “Jack, what are you making?” I said.
    There was a long pause. He looked up and dropped his glasses down on his nose and said, “…you should know better than to ask me that.”
    I was baffled by his response. ” uhm, er …what do you mean Jack?”
    “I don’t know what I am making.”, he fired back. “I wouldn’t be making it if I knew what it was.”
    There was another long awkward pause.
    He picked up the cigarette he had laid smoldering on the edge of the table top and took another long drag. He looked over his glasses at me and I knew I was intruding on sacred space and time. I backed up a little bit to give him some sense of space as Jack returned to creating some not yet known sculpture in the dimly lit old boiler room that lived at night as his sculpture studio. The condensing unit from the old boiler made an ear shattering gushing sound as if mechanical intestines were about to explode and burst. It stopped and silence resumed. I was awkward in the silence. Graceful exit.
    “Have a good night Jack.”
    “You too.” he said in a factual manner. He took another drag from his cigarett and put it down on the edge of the table. And silence dominated the parking lot as I walked accross it interupted only by the sound of his sewing machine trying to go through heavy bright yellow vinyl fabric. Then silence and the sound of evening bird calls from the pine trees close by.
    I walked away into the dark of the Fall evening and never forgot what Jack taught me that art is a wonderful excursion into the unknown; no words, no language, braving it into uncharted territory. A place of exploration,joy and freedom that Jack knew best. Thank you Jack…for everything spoken and unspoken.

    “Caro Jack. Dorme benne.”

    -Nicole Collier 7/17/09

  5. I was very shocked and saddened to learn about Jack passing away. Graduating with a BA in art in 1979, I thought him my most influential teacher. He was a true artist through and through and 24/7. He put his heart and soul into art and his unique perspective radiated out from him every moment. He was the kind of guy who would actually look you in the eyes and listen to what you would say and you could see him analyzing every word in order to be truly connecting with you. I have met up with him several times by accident lately and we made an effort to get reacquainted a bit, and it was delightful. The last time I saw him was a few weeks ago and he had shaved his head and it was quite a comparison to his disheveled ponytail. He asked me if I liked it and I said, “Sure…it suits you well.” Us artists have a spontaneous character and tend to be in a world of our own half the time and almost anything goes. Jack was a pretty cool guy and didn’t have the typical “professor starch,” and to learn he had passed away so soon I had to express my thoughts and give him a few fond words. Jack, may you rest in peace, I’ll miss you and remember you always.

  6. I was a student of “Dr. Marshall” in the 70′. I always was appreciative that he was free spirit. I was always a little envious that he could be himself and I could not (I was a chemistry major). But now I am a photographic artist and I am so thankful to have had him as a teacher at Keene State.

    Thank you, Jack, for your inspiritation.


  7. After playing a Private Memorial for Jack Marshall at 7:pm, on Thursday, August 6th, 2009 -some memories to share: I’d grown up here in Keene, graduating from KHS in ’65, with a ‘non-academic’ focus in ‘The Arts’ (i.e: Band, (Trumpet) Chorus, (Baritone) Art, (Drawing) & Drama Club (Supporting Actor.) Despite a ‘Non Academic background’ & Nixon’s ongoing conscription of ‘hippies’ for his escalation of the Vietnam War, my ‘lucky stars’ were ‘in alignment’ and after a year of factory work, a year at Boston’s Berklee School Of Music, three years in the 298th US Army Band, Berlin (while mentoring with Carmell Jones & Leo Wright on the nightly local Jazz Scene) & a 12-month stint leading my Own Group as a Progressive Jazz/Rock Musician in Germany, I’d returned home. But by January of ’72, most of the US Jazz Scene was dead, buried & ‘Covered-Over by Rock!’ Still wanting to work in creative music, I began to explore the local music scene, playing with many musicians & bands around New England -including the newly formed (’72) KSCJE! During that period, I met two ‘local stars’ -bassist ‘Blind Lummie’ (Teddy Lombard) & guitarist/soundman Jeff Firestone. It was through them, in ’73, that I met KSC’s new head Art Professor, Jack Marshall, (also a pianist) who had turned his recently booked ‘Moonlight Jazz Piano Bar Gig’ (at ‘The Crystal Lounge’ in downtown Keene) into a Jazz Jam Session! These sessions were a lot of fun, but steady, paying gigs in creative music were unlikely career paths at the time. It was Jack who suggested I might postpone that for awhile -& in the meantime, ‘try the back door’ at KSC by auditioning with the college’s Jazz Ensemble Director, Bill Pardus. That was a great suggestion, because good ‘Day Jobs’ were also difficult for ‘Returning Vets’ to find. I was accepted immediately, with the GI Bill more than paying for everything! I thoroughly enjoyed most aspects of ‘KSC student life’ as a Music Major -including frequent tours as a soloist with the KSCJE, but I began to recognize that the pedagogical approach inherent to general music education is so graded & systematic, that ‘Creativity’ was rather more of a Threat to ‘The Arts’ (as an established field of education) than a Source (from which All Art emerges!) In the Visual Arts, there’s also a pedagogy, of sorts… in the form of ‘A Tradition’ predicated by ‘The Masters…’ -So ‘Status Quo’ may be the best motto to describe our ‘State Of The Arts’ at Keene (& much of the US) in the 1970’s. Jack respected & appreciated those past masters and had he not stayed more than a year or two at KSC, Jack’s Art & Sculpture could easily have ‘shared space’ with any of the Master’s by now- and been recognized as ‘Equally Important.’ How lucky we were to share that, as well as his friendship, outlook, humor & experience. I always thought of my friend Jack Marshall as an ‘Improvisational Multi-Media Master Sculptor’ because he’d Sculpt Everything! After a Jam Session one night, he expressed a bit of frustration in not having a ‘Surreal Keyboard’ that let him physically ‘Scoop, Gather & Form the piano keys in the way that he wanted, as-if to ‘Hand-Sculpt’ the sounds he meant to improvise! Jack ‘sculpted it all…’ materials, sounds, light, space, his garden & it’s very ground… his house & it’s very form! Ask him what he was making and he’d likely reply: “Well I can’t tell you that right now, because I won’t know what it is until I’ve finished working on it!” Jack’s house itself was an ever changing work. Once, after responding to one of my questions on a recently added detail, I’d asked: “So, Jack- when is the house going to be Finished!?” Jack responded to my question with what has since become my favorite quote from him: “Well- If I felt that the house was Finished, then I’d have to Move!” -So Glad to have shared his Friendship! -Larry Brown Jr.

  8. My very first art “drawing 1” class was with Jack when I arrived in Fall 1993. We sketched lots (and lots) of clouds, and had to hold our pencil in a different “side way” than I was used to. Clouds for weeks, it seemed, when I look up at them today, I still think of Jack. For one class we went to his house to draw his very own unique sculptures. I have many more memories of his teachings in art/sculpture and of Jack himself. In my 1998 graduating yearbook, there is a two page spread featuring him and some his mahogany pieces. I’m so grateful to have that in my book today.

    He left an “artistic” impression. I’m very sorry to hear of his passing. May he rest in eternal PEACE and his art never to be forgotten.

    Forever remembering Jack,
    ~Kristie Guerin Poltronieri

  9. Such a sad loss, his classes where so much fun for me. His talks, the whole ambiance. He will be missed. When I look back at my time at Keene State his is one of the faces that always comes to mind.

  10. I think of Jack’s teachings often. He taught me a lot about how to think, solve problems and to make decisions about what to think. I will always remember his conversations, humour and kindness. Thank you Jack for being one of my teachers, instructors and being a part of my life. I have good memories of you.

  11. I just happened upon this new today, casually wondering what some of my KSC instructors were doing these days. I am both saddened by this news, but happy to see the thoughtful responses from those who had the pleasure of studying under Jack.

    I think above all else, as stated in previous postings, Jack challenged students to attack problems using the less-obvious pathways. This was both stressful and rewarding. A good case-in-point was his topics in media course. Our project this semester (Spring 1991) was to collaborate with four dancers for a mixed media piece. Basically, the students were going to be our “human screens” while we projected imagery onto them. In all honesty, none of us saw how this was going to be a success, and we begrudgingly moved forward. The dance students weren’t pleased to be covered in a white cloth for the piece, and the artists weren’t happy with Jack’s vision of projecting only white lines for the majority of it.

    Long story short, somehow it all came together at the very moment when it seemed it would all fall apart (which happened to be at the last possible moment). As I got to know him a little, I drew the conclusion that this was typical of Jack. Put up with a bit of chaos and rewards will await.

    I’m thankful for the life-enduring lessons he taught, and for the short time I was able to get to know him.

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