March 1, 2022

James Seawright, kinetic sculptor and ‘godfather of the creative arts at Princeton,’ dies at 85

James Seawright, artist and professor of visual arts in the Lewis Center for the Arts, emeritus, died February 12 of complications from Parkinson’s disease at home under hospice care in Middletown, New York. He was 85.

james seawright seated by wood planks in scultpure shop. He wears glasses, light button-up shirt and grey slacks

Photo by John Jameson

He is recognized as one of the foremost technological artists and makers of kinetic sculpture, with works in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum and other museums throughout the world.

Seawright joined the faculty in 1974 and was part of the Program in Visual Arts for three decades, making seminal changes and expansions to the program, housed at 185 Nassau St. He transferred to emeritus status in 2009.

“Jim Seawright was one of the most comprehensively intelligent persons I’ve known at Princeton, and also one of the few who retained their sense of wonder throughout a long and full life. Jim was also a compassionate advocate for our students. He was always fair but also held out the highest standards. His southern demeanor was coupled with a generosity that characterized the spirit of 185 Nassau during the 30 years he was director. Jim could also have had the best southern accent at Princeton.
— Emmet Gowin, Professor of Visual Arts, emeritus

In 2009, the Lewis Center established the Jim Seawright Award in Visual Arts, presented annually to a student whose work exemplifies exceptional originality or innovation in any medium in the Program in Visual Arts.

Many of his former students remembered his generous mentorship and his warmth.

“I would not be the artist I am, were it not for Professor Seawright’s ‘Sculpture 101. In his measured, patient, Southern way, Jim taught me to use power tools and saws, to build things, and make it come out right. I remember Jim walking down a short ladder facing forward. ‘Like a sailor,’ he said. My heart is filled with gratitude for having studied with Jim Seawright.”
— Mary Weatherford ’84, painter

Read Seawright’s full obituary written by Jamie Saxon on the Princeton University news page.

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