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Behind the Prize

By Jim McCloskey

My father was a teacher by trade.

When I was a kid, there were bookcases on the landing between the two floors of our home filled with the volumes he had used in teaching the history of science and technology in the 1940s and ’50s.  There was one book on those many shelves that always fascinated me.

He’d purchased it in France just after World War II ended, and it had neverbeen bound or trimmed, meaning the pages didn’t open unless you cut the edges with a knife.  The book was entitled L’Architecture:  Le Passé, Le Présent, and it gradually revealed its treasures to me as I grew bold enough to wield an X-Acto blade in its presence.

Alongside it were dozens of other books on art history, mathematics, language, engineering, religion, politics, urban history and myriad other subjects that had caught his professorial eye and had been important enough to him that he was delighted if any of his six children showed interest.  As he once said to me, “To know any particular subject very well, you need to know a little bit about all the subjects that surround it” – a boundlessly curious outlook I’ve found myself pursuing in everything I’ve done throughout my own lengthening life.

Joseph McCloskey knew little of watershaping (although I always suspected he knew more about their aqueducts than the Romans did).  He had, however, worked his way through college as a lifeguard at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. – and, in those post-Great Depression years, kept body and soul together as a tutor, railway router and auto mechanic as well.  His mix of intellect, experience and ambition made him hunger for knowledge of how things worked, why they worked and what to do with them when they broke down.  

The Trophies

Jonathan Newell is a sculptor (and occasional watershaper) based in Arroyo Grande, Calif.  Working in metal, stone, wood and glass, he has more than two decades’ experience on every scale from fine jewelry to civic monuments, drawing inspiration from years scuba diving and study of marine environments to express organic forms found in coastal waters.  He also works with architects, designers and private clients on custom projects in many styles.  For more information, visit his Web site:   www.jndesign.net.

As a longtime homeowner, he sometimes replaced or repaired faucets, but not often enough that he ever felt the need to buy a basin wrench.  Instead, he would send me (his frequent assistant) to the garage to dig up a couple long screwdrivers, a few heavy rubber bands, some small C-clamps and a tennis ball.  With a bit of cursing and the occasional barked knuckle, he always managed to get the job done – and my lifelong admiration for the human capacity to make things work under challenging circumstances was born.

My thought in naming The Joseph McCloskey Prize for Outstanding Achievement in the Art and Craft of Watershaping after my father is that the people who are to receive this award – now and in the future – exemplify to me something grand and wonderful about the pursuit of knowledge, the spirit of resourcefulness and creative adaptation, the quest for innovation and quality and, perhaps most important of all, the raw desire to transfer information to others that my father embodied on the grandest possible scale for thousands of students through a career that stretched from the late 1930s until he finally retired as a professor of management theory and business administration in the 1990s.

This prize, in other words, is something I take very personally.  I am pleased to invite these three watershapers – professionals who in my eye have risen to a level of distinction matched only by a precious few – to help me honor my father’s memory by accepting this award in the passionate spirit he embodied and with which it is offered.   Further, I challenge them (until they, too, retire) to keep doing all they can to share what they know, selflessly and ceaselessly:   No mission in life has greater significance.

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