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Keuka College News

Artists Come Together for “Clay Connection”

Collaborative work by Richard Aerni & Carolyn Dilcher-Stutz.

Faith Benedict was looking for a way to inspire the growing number of students in her ceramics class at Keuka College, and the result is a new exhibit: “Clay Connection,” featuring the work of eight regional potters and sculptors from Rochester to Syracuse.

Although most of the artists don’t personally know one another, they have in common a passion for creating art from the same original element: clay. And though each piece began in the same form—as a wet, misshapen lump—the variety of shapes, sizes, colors and uses of the pieces that result reflects the distinct styles and skills of each artist and further contrast just how dynamic clay itself can be.

The array of pieces now adorning new gallery space in Lightner Library even features a handful of collaborative works where two artists teamed together to display the contrast possible between large-scale pottery and small-scale sculpture. While Richard Aerni of Rochester fashioned the foundational jars or pedastals of each piece, Carolyn Dilcher-Stutz, also of Rochester, designed the intricate, hand-sized animals – birds, a deer – atop each one.

Whimsical teapot crafted by John Smolenski

Nearby, other animals, particularly fish, serve as whimsical, cheery handles on several teapots crafted by John Smolenski of Skaneateles. The former Keuka College professor attended the School of American Craftsman at Rochester Institute of Technology, then served as artistic mentor to Benedict and other students during her undergraduate years before he went on to teach high school art in Skaneateles.

The “Clay Connection” exhibit also features the work of husband-and-wife artists Ann Bliss and Steve Pilcher of Butternut Pottery in Jamesville, N.Y., along with Peter Valenti, and David Webster, both of Skaneateles, and Peter Gerbic of Middlesex. Light refreshments will be served at the artists’ reception held from 4:30 – 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4 at the gallery inside Lightner Library, with a brief artists talk from Smolenski on the craft, starting at 5 p.m. The reception is open to the public and the gallery is open daily during library hours.

According to Benedict, her personal connections with potters such as Smolenski led to new connections with additional potters and sculptors until she had gathered eight masters of the craft. The show includes artists using traditional methods of firing high-temperature stoneware, as well as some who use a single-firing technique.

An earthenware piece by Gerbic

Peter Gerbic of South Hill Pottery in Middlesex has been working with clay since 1964 when he first started at the American School of Craftsmen at RIT, where he trained under the tutelage of renowned sculptor Frans Wildenhain. While initially trained in functional pottery, Gerbic said, like his “master” Wildenhain, he eventually moved into sculpture, even murals, which retain the same, brick-colored hue as the earthenware in which he specializes. Even its name, terra cotta, correlates to its nature as “baked earth.”

“At the moment, I’m doing straight sculpture, which means lots of curves, at least the way I do it,” Gerbic said with a chuckle. “My emphasis is more on the sculptural elements – the bark on trees, the way sand or snow moves from the wind, human body forms, fruit forms, the way a stream is etched by the water, rocks that have been sandblasted, or water itself. I’m trying to create my own interpretation with the bedrock of Great Nature behind me.”

Gerbic’s works also include some ceremonial pieces, which he described as “my interpretation of Native forms and designs and representations that speak to larger dimension of our life.”

A work by David Webster

According to Benedict, seeing what other artists are doing, with the same material she works with, will inspire her, not only as a fellow craftsman, but as a teacher.

“It’s important for the students to understand that every one says something different with their work – what is your voice? We’re all on different paths and experience different things,” said Benedict, drawing a contrast between her own functional pottery –plates, bowls, mugs and such – and the bronze or clay sculptures for which her husband, Professor Emeritus of Art Dexter Benedict, is known.

“No two of us are the same,” she said. “When we’re talking about the connection at Keuka College, I think that’s what is exciting about an organization, where you have all this diversity, this common bond of wanting to learn. It’s our glue”

President Reflects on Past, Outlines Vision for the Future


Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera is now in his fourth year as president of Keuka College.

Doug Lippincott, executive director of grants, government relations, and compliance and host of Keuka College Today interviewed the president Thursday, Aug.28. In a wide-ranging discussion, the president recalled his early days on the job and how confident he is in the College’s ability to “create the liberal arts curriculum for the 21st century,” a goal he outlined in his May 4, 2012 inauguration.

The president also recapped a busy and successful summer, including the College earning a Start-Up NY designation and what it means for the College and Yates County. He discussed the College’s plans to build a Center for Business Analytics and Health Informatics and create a ”college-town experience.” Lippincott also asked the College’s CEO about the future of the international program and Accelerated Studies for Adults Program.

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Seton Hall University Arson Survivors will Speak at Keuka College Sept. 5

Two of the survivors of the Seton Hall University arson of Jan. 19, 2000, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, will share their experiences at Keuka College Friday, Sept. 5.

Free and open to the public, the program begins at 7 p.m. in Norton Chapel. Simons and Llanos, who were freshman roommates, were severely burned during the fire. They will speak as part of the Office of Campus Safety’s fire safety training for the fall semester.

What started as a prank in the early morning hours in Seton Hall University’s freshman residence hall, Boland Hall, ended with three freshmen losing their lives and nearly 60 injured. Of the 58 student injuries, five were critical, including Simons and Llanos, and required extensive hospitalization.

“Shawn and Alvaro suffered extensive, disfiguring burns, and I am certain that seeing and listening to them will be an experience those in attendance will not soon forget,” said Pat Kasnick, director of campus safety.

At approximately 4:30 a.m. that morning, a fire alarm was received for the six-story Boland Hall in the security office at Seton Hall. The fire on the third floor quickly involved the furniture in the elevator lobby and adjoining area.

Students would later recount that false fire alarms were almost considered a way of life on the college campus, with the result that they tended to be largely ignored. Within minutes, however, students—including Simons and Llanos—became aware that there indeed was a fire. This time, it wasn’t a false alarm.

Scared, the roommates crawled in the direction that they were accustomed to going, not knowing that they were crawling right into the fire. If they had headed to the nearest exit, a stairwell they rarely used, there was the possibility they could have escaped the building without injury.

Losing each other in the blackened hallway, Simons crawled right through and past the fire, but not without his hands taking on third degree burns as his palms stuck to the sweltering floor tiles as he pushed for safety. He also suffered first and second degree burns to his head and face, bringing his percentage of body burned to 16 percent and an insurmountable amount of smoke inhalation. His face was so badly burned that doctors predicted he would be frighteningly disfigured. They feared his fingers, seared almost to the bone, would have to be amputated.

Llanos was hurt even more gravely. As he approached the burning lounge, Llanos saw a glimmer of light from the stairwell adjacent to the lounge. As he stood up to push the door open, a fireball erupted from the burning ceiling tiles, igniting his coat and causing third degree burns from his head to his torso. As he tumbled out into the hallway still ablaze, two resident assistants were able to put the fire out on Llanos, but not before he experienced burns on 56 percent of his body. Chunks of his once athletic frame were gone. From his waist up, nothing was spared

Simons endured months of physical and occupational therapy, while Llanos’ recovery process took years. Not only was it a physical toll on Llanos and Simons, but it was a mental and emotional roller coaster as well. Learning to deal with being comfortable in their new “burned” skin was a mission all in itself.

Two students who started the fire as a prank were indicted in mid-2003, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in late 2006, and were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in early 2007.

A film documenting the tragedy, After the Fire, was made in 2012. To view the trailer of the movie click here.

Meet New Faculty: Dr. Daniel Robeson

Dr. Daniel Robeson, a new Penn Yan resident, was recently named chair of the Division of Business and Management and the first director of business analytics for Keuka College. Robeson comes to the College from a prior post as founding dean of the School of Management at The Sage Colleges in Troy and Albany.

With graduate work focused in the area of “radical innovation” (also known as “discontinuous innovation”), Dr. Robeson is qualified to teach a number of subjects, ranging from quality management to macroeconomics to business strategy to finance. His professional background includes three years as a stockbroker, two years in banking, and almost 10 years in international business focused on management and quality assurance in large-scale start-up plants in South America for the former American National Can Co. (now Rexam National Beverage, London).

In 2000, Dr. Robeson transitioned into higher education, completing an MBA and then a Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He began teaching courses at The Sage Colleges in 2006. He was appointed chair of the department of management, starting in June 2008 and a year later, was appointed founding dean of the School of Management at The Sage Colleges. His family ties to Italy Valley and Vine Valley, not far from Keuka Lake, can be traced back to the early 1800’s, and he can even claim a direct tie to Keuka College: his great-grandfather Charles Robeson attended the “academy” here, 1893-96, before it became an all-women’s institution.

Last book read:  I found I can read about six to eight books at any one time, so that’s a complex question: “Big Data and Business Analytics” by Jay Liebowitz is a basic exploration of analytics, kind of a primer on what’s going on in both business and computer sciences, related to new ways to analyze large flows of data we now collect. That’s been an eye-opener.
Another popular press book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman is very much about the differences in the human mind, the decision-making processes which are fast and done heuristically, versus those that proceed at a slower pace and require more analysis, and how those two systems in the human brain can sometimes conflict with each other.
For pleasure, I really like to read Swedish murder-mystery writer Henning Mankell, who wrote the Wallendar series on PBS, or I like Daniel Silva who writes murder mysteries based in the Middle East but will take you all over the world.
While packing and moving, I came across Plato’s “Republic,” and picked that up. The other book I am reading now is “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy and I’m enjoying that one. I was recently in Russia and had the opportunity to go to Yasnaya Polyana and see his ancestral home and view the grounds.

Favorite quote:  J.R.R. Tolkein: “Not all those who wander are lost.” I think it fits: I move around, I try different things, I learn by experience and that’s worked for me pretty well. So far, so good.

If you could be a fictional character, who would you be and why?
Superheroes come to mind for me. In the Daniel Silva novels, his big character, Gabriel Allon, is an all-around spy, assassin, talented painting restorer, literary type. Not always a benign character, very passionate, maybe too passionate.

How would you incorporate fun components within teaching or within the structuring of an academic division? What makes that fun?:  The day-to-day part, the mechanics, is not that fun for me, but what’s super gratifying is to see a student do a full cycle in their education, to teach them when they’re a freshman and have them again at the end of their program when they’re a senior and be able to note the change. Generally, they are much more poised, more focused and you can see that they’re ready to enter new careers and new worlds. That’s true at the graduate level as well, to see students in their mid-30s/early 40s mature and season up even on a two-week trip to a place like China. Witnessing the result of a person’s education gives me a lot of satisfaction I was part of that.

What are some goals you have for development of the coming Center for Business Analytics and Health Informatics?: It’s early yet but to the extent we can get students into a Field Period ™ or ultimately, [jobs] that are more technical or quantitative with successful companies that are more established, that’s what I’m after. Within business and higher education, when students can describe meaningful work experiences in high-performing companies where the work is technical in nature, that’s the currency of the business and management realm. That’s what gets you the jobs, to be able to sit down with a hiring manager and say, ‘Let me tell you about my experience.’ That’s what gets you in the door.

What specifics might we see in terms of curriculum or other unique projects, partnerships or collaborations? I’m working directly for the president on that initiative, in collaboration with the provost, Dr. Paul Forestell. I envision there will be a curricular component to [the Center], that will be interdisciplinary and probably include some basics in computer science, statistics, information systems and business and perhaps health sciences. There’s not a whole lot of similar programs out there, but I’m looking at NYU, which has a business analytics center. Meanwhile, Villanova and the University of Cincinnati have interesting programs with lots of faculty from different parts of the college. The curriculum may be the hardest piece but in terms of the business side, we are looking at using the Center as a tool to leverage our new START-UP NY designation, the tax-free zone, to bring companies and their challenges right to Keuka College so that we can work on producing solutions. This could provide students research opportunities where they could gain experience and wisdom to ultimately, get better and more technical internships at the companies we bring in. Positions such as data architect, data visualization expert, business analytics specialist … those are the end point in my mind right now.  Our goal is to do a lot of good for the business community, locally and in the larger cities in western New York. Right now, we’re building that capability.

Abbott’s Address: Finding Beauty in Any Subject

Contrary to popular opinion, the field of mathematics is creative, even beautiful particularly to mathematicians. In a similar way, beauty can be found in the general education courses new undergraduate students might be tempted to rush through, as if merely items to check off on a list.

So says Dr. Catherine Abbott, professor of mathematics at Keuka College and the 2013-14 Professor of the Year. Delivering the keynote address Tuesday at academic convocation, Abbott, a 13-year veteran among the faculty, welcomed new freshmen and transfer students to campus and challenged them to seek new learning experiences within the diverse array of possibilities available to them.

Often Abbott says she is asked why she enjoys mathematics, but the question is frequently delivered in much the same tone as when Abbott asked her young daughter why she would want to dye her hair with Kool-Aid. As laughter peppered the rows of those seated in Norton Chapel, Abbott then explained what it is about math that she finds so satisfying.

“Many times students tell me they like mathematics because, ‘there is only one answer,’” she said, adding such a response often tempts her to reply that while there may only be one answer, there are frequently “multiple ways to get there.”

Photo by Stephanie Lockhart '15

Citing the Pythagorean Theorem as one such example, Abbott pointed to some of her favorite distinctive mathematical proofs including one attributed to Euclid, one by former U.S. President James Garfield, and a 1939 proof, devised by American Maurice Laisnez, then a high school student. What all three shared in common, Abbott said, was the desire to create.

So too, Abbott discovered her own creativity – and an appreciation for the creativity of other mathematicians – as she worked to solve complex equations. It sometimes took days, and then weeks to solve questions as an undergraduate and later, grad student, she described. While completing her doctorate, it could take months. While it felt “tremendous” when finally solving a challenging theorem, she said, there were also many other questions she was never able to answer. Still, mathematicians the world over use words like “elegant” to describe the beauty, even poetry within their equations and proofs.

“What makes a proof or theorem ‘elegant?’ I don’t think I could hope to quantify it any more than I could hope to explain my tastes in art, music, or literature—or our current math majors’ obsession with Dr. Who, for that matter,” she said.

According to Abbott, she chose the discipline of mathematics “for much the same reasons my colleagues on the faculty have made their choices. My field is creative, beautiful, challenging, and exciting.”

Photo by Stephanie Lockhart '15

“What about you?” she asked, turning the question to students. “What is going to excite you? Will it be the English course where you learn to appreciate a piece of poetry for the first time? Will it be the history course where you really understand the relationship between World War I and World War II?”

Citing her own experience entering college with an undecided major, Abbott advised students not to hurry through general education courses, lest they miss the hidden beauty of diverse subjects.

“You wouldn’t drive from New York to California without taking time to appreciate the scenery,” she said.

“How do I know this? From my office directly across from Jephson 101, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy some fantastic classes during the last thirteen years,” Abbott said, referring to a central lecture hall in the Jephson Science Center. “So take your time to enjoy these courses.  You may not find your passion, but then again, you may. I wish you success in your journey here at Keuka College.”

Also welcoming news students with brief remarks at academic convocation were College President Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera and Robert Schick, chair of the Board of Trustees. The ceremony marks the official opening of the 2014-15 academic year and includes a colorful processional with upperclassman bearing flags from around the world and faculty in regalia lining the sidewalk to Norton Chapel and applauding new students as they enter. The symbolic rite of passage is an annual tradition for the College.

More photos from Academic Convocation.