Art and Design
Although much changed in the ceramics program at Montclair State since 1966, there was always a constant: Professor William McCreath. In his 47 years with the University before his retirement in May 2013, McCreath’s energy, drive and leadership helped grow the program from two courses with about 30 students to one with more than 100 students each semester pursuing BA, BFA, MA and MFA degrees.
Along the way, McCreath, who was granted emeritus status upon retirement, inspired and mentored a generation of students, many who went on to careers as artists or art teachers. “Professor McCreath taught me all the skills necessary to be a practicing, full-time ceramic artist,” says Lisa G. Westheimer ’08 MA, an artist who teaches at the Montclair Art Museum. “He taught me to never cut corners or compromise and to be brave in the face of criticism.”
“I began attending ceramics classes at Montclair State to balance my high pressure career as a retail marketing director,” recalls Barbara Efchak ’08 MA. “After a couple semesters I committed to the master’s program. With Bill’s guidance, encouragement and constructive ‘suggestions,’ my work began to evolve.”
Efchack is grateful to her mentor for helping her attain a life goal: “I joined an artist co-op and began selling my work and after graduating, I became resident potter and teacher at the Shelburne Art Center in Vermont for three years.”
Known for his lively lectures and passion for art, McCreath, earned two diplomas from Teachers’ College in Dundee, Scotland, the country of his birth, a BFA in painting from the University of Manitoba in Canada and an MFA in Ceramics from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.
“His lectures were always full of a dynamic energy – coupled with an amazing Scottish accent – that could hold the attention of scatterbrained artists like me for hours,” says Jason Timochko ’00, ’07 MA. “He was a master at facilitating young artists on their own personal journey of creativity.”
For many former students, McCreath’s influence went beyond working with clay. “He didn’t only teach ceramics, he opened doors to a life I never dreamed of seeing,” says Huda Shanawani ’97, ’09 MA. “He showed us how to look at life with an opened mind, and to see things from the other side. Everything and everyone has a potential of becoming better if they just give it a chance.”
McCreath, who received the 2013 Distinguished Faculty Award from the College of the Arts, was best known outside of the College as the Grand Marshall of the University Commencement ceremonies. For the past seven Commencements, he carried the mace and led the procession of administrators, faculty and students into the IZOD Center, making him one of the most recognizable professors on campus.
His greatest contribution, however, was in the classroom. “His passion for his subject never faded – even after 40-plus years of teaching,” notes Timochko. “His ability to flow and adapt to change is unlike anything I've seen in a classroom.”
“Professor McCreath is the kind of teacher that I wish every student will get one day in their life,” says Shanawani, who learned from him that, “There is always a solution to the problem, we just have to look for it and never be afraid to ask.”
A lasting memory for Westheimer is the professional advice he gave her at the beginning of her career. “I asked him how to price my work for sale,” she recalls. “He said to think up a number. If it doesn't sell, you charged too much. If it sells immediately, you charged too little.”