Art Professor Retires After 49 Years at MSU

After 49 years of teaching at Michigan State University, Professor James Lawton will retire on May 16, 2017. Lawton first joined the Department of Art, Art History, and Design (formerly the Department of Art and Art History) in 1968, where he has taught all levels of sculpture and ceramics.

Man with gray hair holding a microphone
James Lawton

Since the beginning of his MSU career, Lawton has contributed significantly to the development of the Department of Art, Art History, and Design (AAHD), including developing the first student galleries, establishing the Student Art Store in the Kresge Art Center, serving as the co-coordinator of the sculpture program, and writing the first Master of Fine Arts Degree Handbook. In addition to these projects, Lawton created a study abroad program for AAHD students to France and Italy. He also established and directed the first Fringe festival, a series of lectures by international and diverse visual artists. In 2009-2010, while serving on the Undergraduate Learning Goals Committee, he introduced the arts as an integral component of the program.

I’m a strong believer in how art today needs to be experienced.

James Lawton

“Jim is amazing! He cares deeply for the University, its sculpture program, and his students,” said Laura Cloud, Associate Professor of Studio Art. “He will be missed”

After years of holding a variety of roles in the department, Lawton’s favorite part of teaching is simply working with the students.

“I’m a strong believer in how art today needs to be experienced. I always try to get my students involved in an experiential way, drawing them in intellectually and thoughtfully while becoming emotionally engaged,” Lawton said. “We’re all individual people and we all have our own individual perspectives, so helping the students find themselves in the visual art field is so challenging and rewarding. We are not only a part of creativity in a community or on a local level, but also in the global arena. The students in this department are the artists of tomorrow.”

In addition to teaching and developing the department, Lawton served on MSU’s Cultural Economy Research Team (CULT) to investigate how the corporate arts and crafts experiences have influenced business practices and economic inventiveness. He has been recognized for his work addressing diversity, mixed media sculpture, and new technologies by speaking at conferences in Athens, Greece, and Nanjing, China.

Lawton’s own work can be found displayed in the collection of the Asian American Art Centre of New York as well as in the cities of Detroit and Hartland, Michigan; at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo; Mason and Williamston Public Schools in Michigan; and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

Man wearing a taupe colored blazer standing next to a woman wearing a black coat who is holding a camera
James Lawton

“A lot of my works engage the audience intellectually and emotionally; the viewer is often physically engaged and becomes an active, if sometimes unknowing, participant in the work – creating an experience for the viewer,” Lawton said.

Among his colleagues, Lawton is best known as both a friend and a mentor.

“He mentored me in regards to department traditions, especially ones that supported a culture of sharing, such as ‘bringing home the bacon’ for fellow faculty,” said Professor of Photography Peter Glendinning. “Jim is a dedicated innovator who has embraced new paths of creative problem solving, a multimedia approach to the concept of ‘sculpture,’ and a solid sense of humor, too.”

Post-retirement, Lawton plans to spend his time creating new works, exhibiting, traveling, filming, sailing, and attending international art exhibits such as Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and The Venice Biennalein Venice, Italy.