It doesn’t seem fair. It never does. The death of a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor…no matter who it is in our lives the loss is always felt hard and deep. So was the case with our dear friend, Elmer Craig, who passed away on August 31st in his sleep in Lexington, Kentucky just 12 days shy of his 85th birthday. To say his passing is sad is indeed an understatement because in Elmer’s life, he embodied the essence of what it means to be a trusted friend, colleague, neighbor, husband, father, and brother. In short, Elmer was a quality human being.
Elmer Craig, originally from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, devoted his life to his family, students, colleagues, and the arts … in particular, the ceramic arts. After earning his BA from Ball State University and then an MA from Western Michigan University, Elmer began a long teaching career that started in the high school ranks and ended at Miami Dade College North Campus in Miami, Florida where he was a Professor of Art for 27 years. After retiring from a career in teaching, Elmer, together with his wife, Jane Seyler, a pediatrician, moved to Lexington, Kentucky where Jane continued her work at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine. As luck would have it, for both Elmer and me, he was invited to serve as the resident ceramic artist in the Department of Art & Design at Eastern Kentucky University. For seven years we worked together in the ceramics area, furthering our long relationship as friends and colleagues in clay.
While I had always known Elmer in south Florida as both a colleague and friend, it was this last seven years that cemented my understanding and appreciation of him not only as a person with great artistic skills, but also as a communicator. Although upon his arrival I had already been teaching for over 25 years, my last seven years in the classroom, with Elmer at my side, taught me more than I could have ever imagined. His daily interactions with students, his sensitivity to their needs, his willingness to extend himself beyond what is expected, his gentle nature and warm smile, always made everyone around him feel both comfortable and secure. He never imposed himself on others and quietly worked himself into our lives in ways that allowed us all to realize he was far more than a teacher. Elmer was not only my friend, he had become the friends of my students and colleagues. He was respected, loved, and cherished by us all, and while his passing will be felt long into the future, the memories we all share of our association with him will live longer than the pain of experiencing his loss.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention Elmer’s love for ‘all things education’, which includes international travel (he was the recipient of a Fulbright teaching exchange in England and worked on projects in China and Guatemala).He also was a great devotee of expanding his knowledge through workshops and lectures, and most importantly, NCECA. He was devoted to the NCECA family and its efforts to promote educational opportunities to young students entering the field. To this end, I would like to make an appeal to anyone reading this who knew Elmer and loved him as we do by encouraging you to make a donation in honor of his memory to NCECA’s Fund for Artistic Development. NCECA has established this fund to support young talents and causes that were dear to Elmer’s heart including fellowships to support research beyond academia, international residencies, and special initiatives. I know for sure that Elmer would have embraced these causes, especially realizing how it further supports his love for education and our next generation of ceramic artists. Elmer’s legacy of helping others is something we all want to preserve, both in his name and through our love for someone who left an indelible impression on everyone he knew. Elmer Craig, our dear friend and colleague in clay, will most definitely be missed but never forgotten.