Excellence is ‘Standard Issue’

Graduate Student Keith Hoyt stands in front of his award winning sculpture.
Graduate Student Keith Hoyt stands in front of his award winning sculpture.

After high school, Keith Hoyt decided to go to SUNY Purchase to take his first painting course. But the 2010 award winner was given less than encouraging words from one of his teachers.

“Are you thinking about being a painting major?” his professor said to him. When Hoyt answered, “No,” his teacher quickly responded, “Good, because you’re terrible at it and you should pursue something else.”

Although he had already decided on a different form of art for his future studies, Hoyt said this brutal honesty “put the nail in the coffin” and sealed his fate as a sculpture major.

Now a graduate student at SUNY New Paltz working toward his M.F.A. in sculpture, Hoyt has been bestowed the International Sculpture Center’s 2010 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, beating out hundreds of nominees from university sculpture programs across North America.

For Hoyt, winning this award was more than just an achievement – it was validation.

“Art is so subjective,” Hoyt said. “I’m constantly asking myself, ‘What am I doing? Is it good? Are people interested in it?’ So receiving this kind of recognition was really helpful to keep me moving along in this direction.”

Standing 8 feet tall, 8 feet wide and 16 feet in length, Hoyt’s sculpture, titled “Standard Issue,” is modeled off of a normal steel cargo container and took an entire semester and approximately $600 to create.

By using cheap, paper-thin mahogany plywood from the Philippines, Hoyt said he was able to manipulate materials to look similar to expensive Honduran or Cuban mahogany. Instead of plating the metal handles in brass, Hoyt said he used gold spray paint to give the project a warm and metallic quality.

According to Hoyt, once the shipping container evolved after World War II, enormous cargo ships could be loaded and unloaded with ease, shifting the world’s trade system.

Hoyt said he was influenced to build this container because of its inspiring architecture and important role in everyday life.

“The shipping container has influenced our modern economy so profoundly,” he said. “This one object is something people take for granted. It is interesting to me that in this technological information age, there is this real world object that’s pushing globalization so greatly.”

Nominated by art professors and mentors Steven Bradford and Emily Puthoff, Hoyt was chosen by a jury as one of 20 top winners amongst 445 nominees from 176 schools.

Bradford, who with Puthoff has nominated a handful of students since 2000, said the competition is the only one of its kind, allowing winning works to be shown across the country. But most importantly, he said Hoyt winning this award has been incredibly beneficial to all parties involved.

“For me, this is a way to support their activities,” he said. “My priority is them, but there are certainly benefits to the program. [Hoyt] has had so many other great professors that he’s worked with and they all influence the outcome of his work. It reflects on the school.”

According to Bradford, photographs of winning sculptures are published in the International Sculpture Center’s magazine and all award recipients will participate in a fall and winter exhibition in Hamilton, N.J. from Oct. 10 through Jan. 2.

Bradford said Hoyt was nominated for the competition because of his professionalism, the quality of his pieces and his tireless work ethic.

“I wish we had more students like [Hoyt],” he said. “I think he questions his work. It’s very important for artists to question what they do. That’s not true for every student and sometimes we have to battle people.”

Influenced by the work of his teachers as well as many other modern artists, Hoyt said his initial love for sculpting came from his grandfather.

Working as a tool and die maker, Hoyt said his grandfather taught him how to work with his hands.

“When I was four or five years old, I would work in his shop in the basement making model airplanes and toy rubber band guns,” he said. “I was always fascinated with it.”

When his grandfather passed away, Hoyt said he hung on to some of his tools and still tinkered around in his basement.

After winning the Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, Hoyt said he has begun to look for new inspiration from the creativity of his own two children.

“I’ve been watching what they’re doing, so it has been making me feel very nostalgic,” he said. “I’m working on a big wheel plastic tricycle and upscaling it so I can have one too.”


The International Sculpture Center’s 2010 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Honorable Mention Recipient,

Elizabeth Torrey

Elizabeth Torrey's works on a sculpture for her "Failed Systems" series which received an honorable mention in the competition.

Fourth-year sculpture major Torrey, who was also nominated by Bradford and Puthoff, was honored with one of 15 honorable mention awards in the International Sculpture Center’s 2010 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture competition.

The series of pieces for which she was awarded is titled “Failed Systems.” Each of the three sculptures in the set represents the corresponding organ system that led to the death of three distinct celebrities. The winning pieces were individually titled, “Marilyn Monroe: Acute Barbiturate Poisoning,” “John F. Kennedy: Gunshot Wound” and “Elvis Presley: Heart Attack.”

“All three of these individuals died tragically, young, beautiful and extraordinarily famous,” she said. “I find it fascinating that as a society we elevate those whom we deem worthy to God-like statuses and disregard their humanity, making their lives almost mythic and legendary.”

Torrey said her love for sculpture came from her father. Even though he was a Wall Street employee, she said he was a carpenter and boat builder at heart. Together, Torrey and her father retreated to a workshop to create new works together throughout her childhood.

Receiving this honorable mention has given Torrey a new feeling of confidence. Her next project, she said, would be a continuation of her current sculptures.

“This is an ongoing series that I don’t really see an end to right now,” she said. “I’m currently working on the lungs of Walt Disney.”