David MacDonald carving a large bowl
Early in his artistic career, David MacDonald turned to his African heritage for inspiration in his work. The many examples of surface pattern and decoration found in textiles, utilitarian objects, body ornament, and architecture among the diverse ethnic groups of sub-Saharan Africa continue to inform MacDonald's work on many levels. — Everson Museum of Art, 2011

David R. MacDonald was born in 1945 in Hackensack, New Jersey, the third oldest of nine children. He graduated from Hackensack High School in 1963 and was awarded an athletic scholarship to Hampton Univeristy (Hampton, Virginia) where he majored in art education. While there he was greatly inspired by noted African American ceramic artist Joseph W. Gilliard.

During his studies at Hampton his work became influenced by the political and social issues of the time (the Civil Rights Movement). After graduating, he was awarded a graduate fellowship at the University of Michigan where he studied with John Stephenson and noted African American ceramist Robert Stull. During this time, his work continued to focus on social and political commentary and expand technically.

After receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree he joined the faculty of the School of Art and Design at Syracuse University. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, MacDonald's work received most of its creative inspiration from his investigation of his African heritage. Looking at a variety of design sources in the vast creative tradition of the African continent, MacDonald draws much of his inspiration from the myriad examples of surface decoration that manifests itself in the many ethnic groups of sub-Saharan Africa (as pottery decoration, textiles, body decoration, and architectural decoration). MacDonald's work spans the complete spectrum of ceramic forms of a utilitarian nature.

MacDonald received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) in 2011.

His work is in the permanent collections of

  • The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
  • Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
  • Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York

Galleries offering a selection of MacDonald's work include

Download "David MacDonald: Influence, Commitment, and Integrity" by Andrew Buck from Ceramics Monthly, June/July/August 2017.

Read a profile of MacDonald that appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard in conjunction with the 2011 exhibition of his work at the Everson Museum of Art.

Download CV as PDF.

Artist's Statement

The nature of the art experience for me is one of self-discovery and communication. In one sense, it is a very private and personal journey in search of order, reason, reality and beauty. In another sense, it is a very public act in the attempt to express and share, with others, my realizations and discoveries.

The principal concern of my art is the articulation of the magnificence and nobility of the human spirit; and a celebration of my African heritage. The material I use is clay. The primary vehicle for expressions the vessel.

In my view, the vessel represents unique social and spiritual connections and associations, to all people, that do not exist in non-vessel ceramic forms. There exists in the vessel a timelessness and universality that records, contains and continues the very essence of humanity.

David MacDonald at Work