Coffee with a professor: Ben Anderson

Amidst the ebb and flow of creating art and supporting his family, Ben Anderson found his way back to Rhode Island, where he creates his own sculptures while teaching students to be fluid with their learning.

Anderson is a professor of three-dimensional art and sculpture, as well as the chair of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Rhode Island. His experience here began in 2006 when he got his first job as a professor. Over time, a new opportunity opened as department chair.

“I felt it was my turn to help lead the department into the future,” Anderson said.

While his focus is teaching students how to create, Anderson draws insights from his own work, as he is a practicing artist himself. He originally became intrigued with making furniture but lost interest because it wasn’t what he was looking for, he said. Instead, he realized his interest in materials and space could be better explored through the medium of sculpture.

He has been recently working on a series of sculptures based on New England imagery. He built a library of sculptures, which ecame from molds that he makes, Anderson said. This coincides with his interests outside of work, as he likes to spend time on the water and in the water – exploring the richness of the Narragansett Bay whether that be through fishing or snorkeling.

“There are these funny correlations to photography where you have a negative and you’re printing it,” Anderson said. “In this case, it’s a negative of an object but I don’t print it, I make it out of another material.”

Before his teaching days began, Anderson grew up near Santa Monica, California before attending the Rhode Island School of Design for his undergraduate schooling. He later returned to the west coast two years after graduating from RISD and received his Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of California San Diego. It was here where he discovered teaching as a passion.

“When I was in graduate school, part of the requirement was that you had to teach a minimum of three classes as a TA for a professor,” Anderson said. “In that experience I sort of discovered how much I enjoyed this.”

Before making the decision to attend art school, Anderson first attended Bucknell University, a small liberal arts college in rural Pennsylvania because his father was a professor there. He took a trip abroad to London one semester, and saw pieces created by English sculptor Henry Moore at a museum one weekend.

This experience pushed him over the edge into pursuing art, although it had always been accepted in his house growing up – his father, Neil Anderson, was an art professor, and his two brothers each attended different art schools as well.

“It wasn’t unfamiliar,” Anderson said. I saw that it was a viable path.”

After graduate school, Anderson gravitated toward Rhode Island for the second time, and moved out here with his family in 1995.

“We filled a van with two kids, a guinea pig and cat and drove across the country,” Anderson said.

While teaching students to create art of their own, Anderson reminds them that the process never stops. As an artist he went from working jobs “to survive” so he could pursue this passion, to having full time work, but his role has shifted since landing his full-time position at URI.

“You’re always learning how to do it,” Anderson said. “It’s not like you learned it and it’s over – it’s always evolving.”

Anderson is finishing his third year as department chair, and will begin another three-year term next fall. Like the way he teaches, his career has been dynamic and has led Anderson across the country. For some reason, little Rhody stuck out and they are happy to have him.