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From Alaska to Harvard: The artistic path of MFA alumnus Deighton Abrams

February 21, 2024

Black and white headshot of Deighton Abrams

Deighton Abrams’ ’16 artistic journey has taken him coast-to-coast, from his upbringing in Alaska to his recent endeavors as an instructor within the renowned ceramics program at Harvard University.

“I come from a very creative family,” he reminisced, “so making and enjoying art in its many forms has been a constant throughout my life.” 

His mother’s gift for crafting and his father’s literary pursuits provided fuel for Abrams’ artistic inclinations. 

“Initially studying to become an illustrator, I found my love of ceramics late in my undergraduate degree, and it completely changed my artistic trajectory,” he recounted.

His decision to pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree led him to Clemson University, a choice shaped by both academic aspirations and personal connections. 

“Following my partner, who was accepted into Clemson’s astrophysics Ph.D. program, I visited the Art Department knowing little about the program, but eager to be challenged,” he explained.

Under the tutelage of mentors like Department Chair and Professor in Ceramics Valerie Zimany, Abrams honed his practice and expanded his artistic horizons. 

“The dedication and mentoring of my advisor broadened my view of the art world and sharpened my research skills,” he reflected.

Post-graduation, Abrams began navigating residencies, teaching engagements, and immersive studio explorations. His tenure at STARworks in Star, N.C., further enriched his studio practice.

“I was lucky to jump into a ceramics residency at STARworks, which furthered the expansion of my studio skills and gave me an even wider view of the state of clay in the art world,” he noted.

Black and white colored ceramic artwork displayed in the Lee Gallery.
Ceramic artwork by Deighton Abrams displayed in the Lee Gallery until Mar. 8.

He has shown work nationally and internationally, including at the International Ceramic Symposium and Art Education Exchange Program, at a member Exhibition in Yixing, China and at ArtFields in Lake City, S.C., where he won a Merit Award for sculpture. With stints at institutions like Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. and Greenville Technical College in Greenville, teaching became a cornerstone of Abrams’ artistic path. His return to Clemson University, albeit briefly, to lead the General Education Art Appreciation course remains a cherished highlight. 

Abrams currently lives in Boston, continuing to teach ceramics at community centers and universities, including Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Lesley University.

Recently, he completed a two-year residency at the ceramics program at Harvard University. His extensive teaching resume underscores his commitment to nurturing the next generation of artistic talent.

Within his studio at Harvard’s ceramics program, Abrams embarks on a new artistic path by creating sculptural narratives. 

“I am exploring a new body of sculptural work,” he said, “combining representational ceramic forms, abstracted landscapes, illustrated porcelain pottery and raw building materials.” 

His latest series of porcelain urns reflects his commitment to environmental issues, blending beauty with meaning.

Abrams’ ceramic work is part of the “As Good As Gold: 50 Years of the MFA at Clemson” Part III exhibition and can be viewed in the Lee Gallery until Mar. 8.

About the Clemson MFA Program 

Clemson University’s Master of Fine Arts program celebrates a half-century of art and learning with a three-part exhibition featuring a wide variety of art from its graduates and receptions featuring reflections from notable alumni and supporters of the MFA program. As part of this 50-year-long celebration, Clemson Visual Arts is featuring MFA Alumni this semester leading into the summer months. 

The MFA is considered the terminal degree in the visual arts. Clemson’s program offers studio concentrations in drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography and sculpture. Interdisciplinary and collaborative projects are encouraged within the department. The program’s primary goal is to provide students with opportunities to develop a high degree of professional competence in their chosen area of concentration.