A&M Architecture Professor and Woodcarver

73-year-old to Run 26.2 Miles… Again
October 25, 2012
Hunter’s Wives Get the Bucks Weekend in Caldwell
November 2, 2012

Texas A&M Presidential Professor Rodney Hill grew up with two artist parents, so he has never thought it was unusual to create something out of nothing. As a child, he would create Christmas decorations for his front yard out of simple materials, and the other children at school would bring him reams of papers to make drawings for them.

From that early start, Hill has become a well-known face around his new neighborhood, the Texas A&M University campus, as a beloved tenured professor of architecture with an incredibly interesting secondary profession – woodcarving.

Texas A&M Presidential Professor Rodney Hill grew up with two artist parents, so he has never thought it was unusual to create something out of nothing. As a child, he would create Christmas decorations for his front yard out of simple materials, and the other children at school would bring him reams of papers to make drawings for them.

From that early start, Hill has become a well-known face around his new neighborhood, the Texas A&M University campus, as a beloved tenured professor of architecture with an incredibly interesting secondary profession – woodcarving.

Throughout Hill’s schooling he took art courses, but he never really thought he would make a career of an artistic skill. He attended undergraduate school at Texas Tech University, earning a bachelor of architecture. He then moved on to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received what he describes as a one-of-a kind education attending Berkeley during the protests of the Sixties. While most of his fellow classmates were boycotting class to march in protests, Hill was receiving one-on-one training from some of the finest teachers in the world including the famous sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro who taught for a semester at Berkeley. Though unexpected, Hill soaked up this unique learning opportunity, saying he learned so much from world class artisans simply because the time was ripe to learn.

His woodcarving profession also sprang from unorthodox beginnings. Before Hill attended Berkeley, he was busy remodeling an old house in Highland Park in Dallas.

The lady who lived there had ornate wooden stairs and wanted the restorations to be intricately carved, but she did not know any woodcarvers. So Hill took on the task after hours. He would go to work everyday and then head over to her house in the evening to carve from around six o’clock until 10 o’clock in the evening. After he finished that job, word spread of his talent and he was hired to complete various woodcarving jobs from Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas, the State of Texas Seal in Constitution Hall in Washington DC, to the ceremonial key to the Bush Presidential Library. Though he says wood is his favorite medium to carve, he can carve in anything.

Since Hill has arrived at Texas A&M University, he has been commissioned to do several projects for the university. Most recently, he carved the ceremonial mace for the university, and he and his wife Susan worked together on the seven-paneled wood sculptures that grace the hallway of the Memorial Student Center. The seven-paneled wall depicts the centennial history of Texas A&M, and Hill spent several months in the library researching the past so as to be able to display it correctly.

Hill’s wife is a talented painter and woodcarver as well, and they have developed their artistic skills into a hobby they enjoy together. Rodney Hill says Susan does half of the carvings. “I do the design and research on all the sculptures,” says Hill. “Susan has a background in art from Duke and Tulane and almost majored in art. Her father, who was an MD, said she needed a profession so she ended up as a physical therapist and went to physical therapy school at Stanford.

“We also do bronzes together. We carve the pieces in plaster and send them to the foundry. We can work on the same areas without conflict,” he notes, saying, “we have worked so long together, we anticipate what the other had in mind.”

Hill did more than 250 welded pieces before coming to Texas A&M and he worked his way through graduate school at Berkeley as a teaching assistant but also by selling welded sculptures through galleries in the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. Just some of the galleries where Hill exhibited include Ghirardelli Square and Igor Meade Gallery in San Francisco; University Museum of Fine Arts, Berkeley, California; Sutton Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana; Country Gallery, New York, New York; One Main Place Gallery, Dallas; Dubose Gallery, Houston; and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

Hill teaches at Texas A&M where he is one of the most sought-after professors because his teaching style has stayed close to his roots: his focus is on creativity and making something out of nothing. It does not have to be woodcarving, in fact, he encourages students to find what they are good at and pursue it. For example he is one of the faculty founders of the new Startup student incubator for students (in any major) that have inventions and businesses along with Richard Lester, Don Lewis, Blake Petty and Dean Jorge Vanegas.

Though Hill could easily make woodcarving a full-time profession, he says he has stayed with teaching because he loves to challenge students to find ways of being creative. In addition to his popularity as a professor, Hill was recently honored as a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects because of his many contributions in architectural education, a distinction that was only extended to three educators this year.

From the homegrown art projects of his youth to bringing home the drive to be creative in his students, to creating beautiful objects that will last for generations, Rodney Hill has come full circle in nurturing the art in all of us.

by Megan Jarvie