Draw a tree without drawing a tree. This peculiar assignment was one of the first I received from University of Dallas ceramics professor Dan Hammett in my 2D Design class freshman year. At the time, I did not know I would look back over the course of my education in the art department at UD and be grateful for frustrating projects such as this one, nor did I know that the professor who assigned it had worked for years to help create the program I was then entering. Having taught in the UD art department since 1974, Professor Hammett is more than familiar with the university. While only a handful of UD’s student body face the struggles and earn the rewards of taking one of his studio art classes, almost everyone is familiar with the Art Village he worked for years to help create.
“When I came to the university, the ceramics area was one room,” Hammett said.
This condensed ceramics studio was in the current senior painting studio, in the painting and printmaking building. After receiving his Masters of Fine Arts from Alfred University, Hammett interviewed for ceramics teaching positions at five universities, but felt a particular calling when he visited UD. The faculty members who interviewed Professor Hammett, including the Cowans and Novinskis, set UD apart from other universities by encouraging its art professors in both their educational careers and their personal careers as artists.
“I literally fell in love with what they were talking about,” Hammett said. Upon being asked what the faculty members wanted in the ceramics department, Donald Cowan, the university’s president at the time, told Hammett, “We want it to be the most professional area you can make.”
“That kind of endorsement from the president – that meant the world to me,” Hammett recalled. And so, upon starting his long career at UD, Hammett worked to expand and create the art program and facilities, with special attention to his artistic medium and calling – ceramics.
As a child growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Hammett often visited his grandparents’ farm in eastern Oklahoma, where the ground was made of his future medium.
“As a child I can remember really finding an attraction to playing in the river beds – the red river beds – which really was, again, part of growing up. And I think that red clay was part of the attraction [to ceramics] for me,” Hammett stated.
Hammett was also drawn to ceramics early in life by the prevalence of Native American pottery in his hometown.
“I think as a child that was one of the things that really influenced me, is that being able to see beautiful orange pottery that was made by Native Americans, and it always has been a, ‘Welcome home – here is some earthenware,’” said Hammett.
With the good fortune of growing up in what Hammett described as the vibrant and art-appreciative city of Tulsa, he approached higher education without a specific goal in mind, but certain that he would be involved with art. Soon after beginning his college career, Hammett found the medium for which he is now known.
“I had forgotten about it from my childhood experiences – and then when I touched it in college it was like … it was such a calling. It was absolutely the most important thing that I could do.”
And thus, Hammett has devoted his skills, knowledge and time to helping students discover and develop this artistic calling as well, transforming the UD ceramics department from a single-room studio into an internationally recognized program both by building studio facilities and cultivating a network of ceramic artists.
By his second semester of teaching at UD, the current ceramics building had been built, housing the ceramics studio, a wood shop and art history classes – far from the ideal standards for a safe and creative environment.
“1980 was when we started thinking about how to make an ideal Art Village,” Hammett said. “And it didn’t mature until 2001. So it was literally twenty-some-odd years of planning for where we’re sitting right now.”
While working with the university’s art faculty to create a professional and beautiful area for art students, Hammett also worked with ceramic artists internationally, to bring UD into the artistic network of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA).
“Over the years, NCECA has been a wonderful asset,” Hammett said. “It was a way that we could put UD on the map, and people look to University of Dallas as being one of the greatest studios in all of the Midwest-Southwest region.”
By building a relationship with NCECA, Professor Hammett has given UD artists an incredible amount of opportunities, as well as brought the facilities and knowledge that UD has to the organization.
“There’s probably not a clay person in the world that doesn’t know University of Dallas or doesn’t know me because of NCECA,” Hammett said.
Ultimately, the importance of these facilities and networks is for the sake of his students, to provide them with everything they could need to enhance their abilities and enrich their lives.
“Teaching is a … it’s a blessing, to be able to share someone’s life, and to be able to be an influence in their life, and give them choices,” Hammett said.