Obituary: James Myford / Artist and teacher at Slippery Rock University

Aug. 9, 1940 - May 2, 2014

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It could be a leaf he found near his home in Grove City or a cactus he spotted in Arizona. It could be a wavy shadow his grandson noticed while they were on a walk or a seashell he saw while on vacation in New Jersey.

James Myford looked to nature for inspiration for his aluminum sculptures, which often featured a contrast between smooth organic lines and rough edges. He was attracted to the idea of growth and change, family members said.

Mr. Myford, a Mercer County sculptor who taught art at Slippery Rock University for almost 30 years, died Friday from a cancerous tumor in his back. He was 73.

He was born Aug. 9, 1940, in Brackenridge, where his father worked as an electrician and furnace repairman to support him and his six siblings.

When Mr. Myford was about 13, his family built a small house in the country with their own hands. The experience was so enjoyable for him that it made him want to become an artist, his wife said.

"I think that's where his artistic gist came in," Betty Myford said. "That's why he was in 3-D work instead of 2-D work."

A high school art teacher encouraged him to enroll at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in art education in 1962. He also met his wife there. They married in 1963.

Mr. Myford taught art in middle and high schools before joining the faculty in 1968 at Slippery Rock State College, now Slippery Rock University, where he worked until his retirement in 1997. From 1987 to 1996, he served as chairman of the university's art department, and in 2012, a building on campus was named after him.

As a teacher, he went out of his way to seek opportunities for his students, such as getting them into a show at PPG Place, Downtown, said former student Bob Isenberg, who works as a potter in Prospect. He kept in touch with his students after they graduated, offering guidance on their lives and careers.

At the beginning of his career, Mr. Myford worked in ceramics and wood. Then, in 1970, he took a class on aluminum sculpting that enthralled him. He stayed with aluminum for the rest of his career.

It was a difficult medium. To make a sculpture, he started by using saws and files to shape a block of plastic foam. Then he buried the foam in sand, packing it tightly to make a mold. He sent that to a foundry, which poured in molten aluminum. Finally, he used power tools to grind and buff the aluminum. The process could take a month or more than a year, depending on the sculpture's size.

The industrial aspect of working with aluminum appealed to Mr. Myford, evoking a connection to the Steel City, said his son, Gregory Myford of Orlando, Fla.

"It's very blue collar," he said. "It requires a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat. But the finished product was highly polished and highly refined, and elegant in a lot of ways."

His sculptures sit in the courthouse square in Greensburg; the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Downtown; and Grandview Park in Mount Washington.

Mr. Myford tried to design sculptures that would enrich the communities around them, said Douglas Faull, whose company, Faull Fabricating Inc., poured molten aluminum into his molds.

One of his sculptures, in the town square of Slippery Rock, has two aluminum columns standing in a pool of water, leaning away from each other but facing each other. The columns symbolize the division between the town of Slippery Rock and Slippery Rock University, Mr. Faull said. The message -- with the pillars standing in the same pool of water and with one waterfall running over both of them -- was that the communities should come together.

"His art was for showing his concern for men -- to develop and improve and enrich them," Mr. Faull said.

For decades, Mr. Myford took his family on summer vacations to Stone Harbor, N.J., where he enjoyed the curves of sand dunes and the alternating tranquillity and violence of beach tides. After his retirement, he bought a home in Arizona, where he liked the desert landscape.

His daughter, Donna Jean Glenn of Grove City, remembers helping him in his studio when she was a child. She didn't have as much artistic talent as he did, but he inspired her to become a fourth-grade teacher.

"I grew up knowing that was what I wanted to do," she said. "I saw how much his students looked up to him and the influence he had, and I wanted that."

In addition to his wife and two children, Mr. Myford is survived by siblings Darla Schriver of Mooresville, N.C., Merna Durand of Newark, Del., and Thomas Myford of Sarver; and four grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. May 18 at Grace United Methodist Church, 210 S. Broad St., Grove City. A memorial service will follow at 5 p.m.

Memorial contributions may be made to Grove City YMCA, 543 E. Main Street Ext., Grove City, PA 16127; Grove City High School Boys Basketball Booster Club c/o Michele Orlowski, 71 Perrine Road, Grove City 16127; or James C. Myford Sculpture Scholarship Fund, c/o Slippery Rock University Foundation, P.O. Box 237, Slippery Rock, PA 16057.


Richard Webner: 412-263-4903 or rwebner@post-gazette.com


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