I met the iconic Phillip Cornelius in the 80’s during my graduate studies at the University of Texas, San Antonio while I was an intern resident artist at the former Southwest Craft Center. Phil came to the Center as a visiting artist for one month when he guided me in the craft but importantly the concepts of clay as a medium of abstract artistic expression. Three years later while co- director under John Wilson at the Lakeside Studios in Lakeside Michigan I invited Phil to Michigan. Youth with a degree overestimates its wisdom. He taught me as well as others without condescension or criticism the power of an artist and the purpose of its works. Lakeside Studios sent me to Latvia and Phil to Lithuania in 1989 where we met up in the former Soviet Union, and our worlds changed. Over the years we met and talked. Each time I learned. The world will miss his presence with only some clay to view. But his spirit still prevails. His greatest contribution to the world of art is not the work he left behind but the minds he expanded.
I cannot do any more justice than his obituary:
Phillip G. Cornelius (1934- 2015)
Phillip Age 80, an artist, mentor, and longtime friend, Ceramic Professor at Pasadena City College, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, May 19. Born in San Bernardino in 1934, he grew up in Ontario, CA and graduated from Chaffey High School. He led a colorful life traveling several paths as a young grocery bagger, a US Army soldier, a science major at San Jose State University, a certified pilot, and as an acclaimed artist and professor. He obtained his MFA degree in 1965 at the Claremont graduate School and has been working as an artist and ceramist ever since. While many universities have closed their ceramics programs over the years, Phillip is credited with making the Pasadena City College Ceramic Department a premier studio and envy of art programs everywhere. His science background served him well when he discovered his passion for ceramics and in the early 1970’s developed his signature “thinware”, which is ultra-thin and fired “right to the edge.” Phillip once said he was very aware of his ability to “do the wrong thing and have it come out right.” Colleagues believe he shattered the ole image of ceramics as a craft and he boldly moved this age-old skill into the world of the fine arts. His abstract expressionism, cutting edge construction and imagery are seen within his art. Phillip’s work includes his signature porcelain pieces , which resemble tanks, airplanes, and ships in the form of an abstract teapot. The teapots represent so much more than what the eye beholds. Many of his pieces can be seen in major museum collections throughout the world including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Phil is survived by: his oldest son Charles Cornelius, his wife Tana, their three children, Ashley, Brooke, and West; his youngest son, Andrew and his wife Tara Cornelius.
Joyce Jablonski, Professor of Art, Head of Ceramics, University of Central Missouri