by Nathan Gower, staff writer
Dusty Benedict, a professor of studio art at Warren Wilson College for 32 years, is retiring at the end of this academic year.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas for projects. I’m getting to the age where I realize how much time teaching is taking away from being an exhibiting studio artist. I don’t have a whole lot of time left on earth to finish those projects,” Benedict said of his decision to retire.
“It’s a great time for retiring. I’ve really enjoyed it here. I have no negative feelings,” he added.
Benedict’s path to Warren Wilson was nothing short of fascinating.
After graduating high school, Benedict enrolled in junior college, where he spent two years, before moving to Hawaii at the height of the Vietnam War to attend a traditional university.
“I spent more time surfing than studying,” Benedict recalled.
This leisure ate into his studies, and he lost his draft deferment. Coming from a military family, Benedict decided to enlist in the navy.
“If I went into the navy, I wanted to do something special. They were looking for volunteers for submarine duty, so that’s what I did,” Benedict explained.
After months of training, Benedict’s submarine deployed to the Pacific. His and another crew alternated three-month deployments, with one month devoted to maintenance and upkeep. The remaining two months were spent entirely submerged.
The submarine, armed with sixteen UGM-27 Polaris nuclear missiles able to be fired while the submarine remained under the surface, was to target eastern Asian communist nations should the Cold War break out into a hot war.
Whilst on the submarine, Benedict began devoting his spare time to painting, printmaking, reading art history, drawing, and other facets of the arts.
“I got quite a liberal arts education without even knowing it,” he laughed.
Towards the conclusion of his four year enlistment, Benedict applied for and was admitted to the Art Center College of Design in California. He was granted an early out from the navy and used his GI Bill to complete a Masters of Fine Arts in studio art.
After receiving his degree in the early 1970s, he and his wife bought a Volkswagen bus for $3200 in what was then West Germany and travelled throughout Europe for about eight months. The couple brought the bus back to the United States and embarked on a similar cross-country trip stateside.
After having a child, the Benedict family moved back to Hawaii, where Dusty began working at an art center in an island that was, at the time, still developing: Maui. This job was not permanent, however, and Benedict soon began digging ditches to pay the bills.
It was then, in 1979, that Dusty decided to fly back to the mainland and look for a teaching opportunity.
After several interviews, both formal and informal, Benedict was offered a job in studio art by then-Dean of the College Sam Scoville. The college had not had a focused art program, and most art classes operated out of the Log Cabin.
Instead, students had concentrations in either theater, visual arts, or music in a broadly-encompassed fine arts major. As one might expect, this was not ideal for either the students or faculty.
“It attracted a lot of weak students. There were plenty of strong students, sure, but there were a lot of weak students,” Benedict said.
The fine arts major was eventually scrapped, and each concentration’s faculty began establishing their fields as strong minors.
In the mid-90s, with more and more art students pleading for a major, a feasibility study was conducted on whether or not the minor could be converted to a major. The findings were positive, and after being approved by the Board of Trustees, the college introduced a full studio art major.
For a time, the major was the third-highest-declared major at the college. These numbers allowed for the construction of the Ceramics Studio in the mid-90s, as well as Fletcher Arts Studio in 2003.