In Memoriam: Arthur Corwin A’54
Arthur Corwin graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art in 1954. He received a B.F.A. and B.Arch. from Yale in 1955 and 1958, respectively, and also studied at the Ozenfant and Hans Hofmann Schools of Fine Art. He was a Professor and Professor Emeritus n the Cooper Union School of Art for many years. Arthur was a fine artist and sculptor, a licensed civil engineer, and a distinguished architect. He married a Cooper alumna, the former Isabella Casaceli, Art’54. They had been married 45 years when he passed away.
For many of his students, Corwin’s teachings transcended the walls of the classroom, offering a unique perspective on our place in the world through time. His interdisciplinary “Art in Math” class, co-developed with Professor of Mathematics Paul M. Bailyn, received the first Edwin Sharp Burdell Award for creative synthesis of Science and Art.
His lectures explored ancient oral and symbolic traditions, including myths, legends, fairy tales, superstitions and religions. “In this vast tapestry,” Corwin said in an article published in Cooper Union’s 1987 Annual Report, “many unbroken threads lead back to the glacial era. In this increasingly hostile climate, finding one’s place in time and space and the ability to measure both accurately became critical to survival—for timing hunts, storing food and avoiding winter births.” He had completed a book on the subject at the time of his death.
Professor Emeritus Arthur H. Corwin passed away in Maine on March 28, 2017 at the age of 88. Remembered fondly by many as a professor of sculpture and prehistoric symbolism, Corwin taught at Cooper Union from 1966 until his retirement in 2000. He was also an alumnus, earning a Certificate of Art in 1954, Acting Dean of the School of Art during multiple transition periods, and played an active role in the Art Admissions Committee for many years.
Professor Corwin also taught Freshman 3D design and two popular courses in which students were to conceive, design and build a chair or a boat.
- Art in Mathematics.
This course will cover the prehistoric development of cognitive thinking, the origins of the abstract languages of the arts and sciences and their lingering influence on the symbolic perception of modern man.
3 General Studies credits.
- Advanced Sculpture/Symbolic Perception.
A continuation of the prehistoric Art/Math course to probe further into genetically transmitted symbols known as “Archetypes.” A mixture of lectures, discussion, and individual investigative presentations in areas of art, architecture, literature, cinema, sports, politics and advertising.
- Freshman 3D Design
- Math in Art
This course was co-developed with Prof. Paul Bailyn of the engineering school in 1968. The course consists of a menu of topics from which choices are made by the students and the instructor. The basic purpose of the course is to give the students a sense of what mathematics is about and how it informs and is nurtured by other disciplines
The Cooper Union Burdell award for Creative Synthesis of Science and Art
I remember Professor Corwin being both fun, encouraging playfulness in our work as well as being very serious. He took a group of us to Roosevelt island to put up a geodesic dome that he had gotten from “his friend” Buckminster Fuller; he often spoke about ‘Bucky’. He also took us on a boat around the island, thinking about the city from the water, and the impact it had. We also went as a group to see or install large sculptures in Central Park by Cooper students. I liked his energy. — Judi Musaro Lichter A’72
In 1980 or ’81, I spent a week as Art Corwin’s guest in Rowayton, CT. Doug Ashford and I had just purchased a Bolex 16mm film camera which we took turns monopolizing. I brought the camera to Connecticut. Arthur had created an armature that attached to his studio ceiling. The Bolex was bolted to it, and aimed straight down at the floor. We needed the floor-to-ceiling distance to accommodate the width of a tarot deck, laid out like a crown in thirteen columns and seven rows, without using a lens that would add distortion. In fact, an actual card deck would have been way too big. So we were using a photographically-reduced deck — a tiny tarot of 1″ x 2″, Bristol board-backed tiles; a miniature Tarot de Marseilles. Penciled guides were drawn on the floor to keep these tiny cards in place. We filmed them as a stop animation, moving them in a prescribed pattern that would result in a calendar that was accurate to within a day every 25,772 years. Weeks later, the film was processed and we ran it through a projector at Cooper Union. The film’s resolution was not up to the task, and when projected, the 78 cards were reduced to fuzzy, little blobs of color. It was basically useless. Nowadays, one could just write code to move some sharply detailed graphics around on a monitor, but thirty five years ago we were out of luck. Still, it was an unforgettable experience. — Jim Markowich, A’79
Professor Corwin’s classes had a profound affect on me as a student at Cooper Union. His theory about understanding how primitive societies used symbolism, universal themes and a calendar system to interpret their world has fascinated me ever since. I will never forget the senior project I did for his class, “Psychology, Symbols and Perception”. I was absolutely fascinated by how these themes played a role in contemporary society. As an artist, I try to see my work as part of a great human tradition that helps us understand who we are as a people by interpreting these universal themes. Professor Corwin planted that seed when I was in college and it has continued to grow. I will forever be grateful to him. — Lori Loebelsohn A’82
I’m very sad to hear about Arthur’s passing. I studied with him during my first 2 years at Cooper. Freshman year he taught the required 3D Design class. In my 2nd year I took his elective course entitled “Math in Art”. Attached is a photo that I took in 1980 in the Math in Art class. — Paul Garrin A’82
My last memory of Professor Arthur Corwin took place at his Maine cabin in June of 2012 with his wife, Isabella, who had prepared yet another amazing meal. Arthur again assumed the role of our teacher—I was instantly brought back to Cooper Union, circa 1978. The cracking of lobster shells was interspersed with detailed descriptions of Robin Hood and Santa Claus—making each in their own way seem like extraterrestrials from a distant start cluster. The evening turned to night. The lobster disappeared. Learning couldn’t be anything but magical with such a teacher. Arthur will be deeply missed. — Sandra Mayer, A’82
This is a huge loss…Arthur Corwin’s contributions helped make Cooper Union special for decades. — Carol Wolf A’84
Professor Corwin was an incredible man and educator. From his amazing study of Ice Age myths and cultures to his pinpoint way of explaining personality types, to his unbounding curiosity and intellect, Arthur had a distinct way of getting his students to think further, push the creative and dive deeper. Needless to say, his Chair class was much more than just designing a chair. I will forever be grateful for him being a presence in my life. Outside of my family and Ed Love, Arthur had the greatest impact in shaping my creative eye, my view of people, and the lens through which I see the world. Yesterday, I saw an amazing picture of a kingfisher emerging from a river with a fish in its mouth. I reached for my phone to call Arthur…I wanted to tell him about it. I will forever appreciate and love him. — Yvette Francis, A’93