David Keens, head of UT Arlington’s glass program, has received the Texas Legislature’s highest honor for artists.
Every two years, the Legislature designates four Texas State Artists for excellence and commitment to the arts. One artist is selected in each of four categories: poet laureate, state musician, two-dimensional visual arts (painting, drawing, printmaking) and three-dimensional (sculpture).
Lawmakers recognized Keens in the three-dimensional category April 19, the same day he was inducted into the University’s Academy of Distinguished Scholars, which recognizes research and creative activity.
College of Liberal Arts Dean Beth Wright isn’t surprised at the honors.
“Professor Keens’ creative activity has been recognized nationally and internationally for its superior merit and groundbreaking significance,” said Dr. Wright, who noted that his work is in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan, and the art glass foundation Cam Ocagi in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as in major U.S. museums and corporate collections.
Keens, who has been at UT Arlington since receiving his M.F.A. from the University of Washington in 1974, grew up in California. His interest in art came from seeing Depression-era WPA Federal Art Project murals in his elementary school: artists’ renderings of workmen building machines and airplanes.
“I would gaze at the art and daydream, sometimes even when I was supposed to be doing my school work,” he recalled.
Keens first excelled at metal art. He created unique, oversized, non-wearable jewelry as works of art, all based on metals he tooled on a lath and things like industrial plastics. Metals can be heated, plastics cannot, so he had to devise increasingly complicated methods of attaching the intricate parts.
After years of metal work, he was ready for a fresh challenge. Still fascinated with manipulating materials, he began working with glass. Recently he has focused on large installations like “Blooms of Enlightenment,” which he created for the Euless Public Library, and works in the University Club in Davis Hall.
Keens’ honor could not have come at a better time, Wright said. State recognition of his work brings additional prominence to the art department at a time when it is accepting applications for the new master of fine arts degree, which offers a concentration in glass.
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