By Sarah Richards
When you teach at Pensacola State College for 25 years, you’re considered a legend.
Bill Clover did it for 52, passing away May 7, 2018.
“Bill Clover built the PSC ceramics department from the ground up,” Ben Twingley, PSC adjunct professor and a former student of Clover’s, said. “There were no kilns to fire student work, so he drove their pottery north of Pensacola near a brick manufacturer where the student work could be completed. Many times, that required him to stay overnight in his VW van before driving back to the college with the finished student work.”
Twingley met Clover in 2005 when he decided to get back into ceramics by auditing classes at PSC. “I was immediately drawn to him for his quick-witted sense of humor, his laugh and immense artistic abilities.
“He was a legend at PSC and Pensacola as a whole. After more than five decades of teaching, he celebrated the fact that some of his students were grandchildren of former students” and “was emulated often in students’ work.”
Twingley and Clover collaborated several times over the years where he would “put his signature ‘Cloverized’ touch to the work.”
Edward Meadows, PSC President, describes Clover as a happy person, “with a quick wit and mischievousness…a love of helping students better their lives and doing good in the community, evidenced by the years and years of ‘Pick a Bowl and Fill a Bowl,’” for which he made many of the bowls himself.
For $30, which went to Manna Food Bank, people would receive a handmade bowl, which they would fill with soup from local vendors. Proceeds from each purchase would feed a person for five days.
DeDe Flounlacker, Executive Director at Manna Food Bank, said he was “a man of deeds, not words…For somebody to spend so much time [helping the hungry] is mind-boggling.” He was “dedicated not so much to a cause but dedicated to people.” Clover involved students, professors, and other artists from the community to use their talents to spread compassion.
“His legacy lives on,” Flounlacker said. “When he could no longer do as much, he recruited others to do it.
“The first time I met him, I thought that is one cool-looking Santa Claus.”
Maybe he was, and just a little bit more.
Clover received the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Award for contributing more than 7,000 hours of volunteer service to Manna Food Pantries, as well as approximately 6,000 bowls.
He also made coffee mugs which the Art Department would sell to raise scholarship money for students.
PSC President, Edward Meadows, said, when Clover was teaching during the Vietnam conflict, a lady came up to him after class and started crying. “That tie disrespects my husband,” she said, referring to the American flag design that he [Clover] wore, to which he replied, “I’m wearing this as a point of pride. I had no idea. I will never wear it again.”
And Clover was a man of his word.
“He had a very tender heart,” Meadows said.
“Kind-hearted” and “big-spirited” is how Dr. Erin Spicer, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, describes him. Several of his pieces adorn her office.
Krist Lien, PSC Visual Arts Department Chairman, said, “Clover taught at Pensacola Junior College and Pensacola State College for 52 years. He was probably the only person to ever be here that long. He was loved by all who knew him and will truly be missed this fall when classes start for the new year.”
“He had lots of good advice, was definitely a mentor to me,” Gretchen Scott, a former student of Clover’s, said.
Clover was a master of the twisted handle which he would make for his mugs—a detail Scott referred to as “Cloverized.”
“He had a plethora of goofy jokes” and was “someone you loved to be around…you just loved to be in his presence.
Clover was 76, but to Scott, “it was like he was brand new.”
Clover had a love of plants and blended that love for horticulture with his love for clay. He grew succulents, attracting the cochineal bug, which, when pinched, releases a juice used for dying. Sometimes he used it to color aprons, of which he had many, including one that looked like the inside of a human body and even one that said “Cloverized” across the top.
John Kusnerek, another former student, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), had never done pottery until he “took his [Clover’s] class and never looked back.”
Clover’s philosophy of no mistakes was all a part of the process–a confidence builder for Kusnerek. “He made clay fun” and “set me on the trajectory to be a ceramic artist.”
Kusnerek remembers a critique time with a “dreadful piece of pottery,” to which Clover said, “It ain’t sexy, but it’s got teeth.” Kusnerek credits Clover with helping him get to grad school.
Jimmy Rhea, sculpture instructor, was “always impressed by Clover’s work ethic.” Even after 50 years, Clover still making work and being passionate about his students gave Rhea hope that he will still have that in the future. Clover taught that it was “okay to be an artist and to follow your passion.
“He was a quiet mentor to me in that way…there was a lot of respect between us–we really appreciated one another…Our time was too short together,” Rhea said.
Warren Thompson, retired photography instructor, said he once turned Clover’s office into a dinosaur diorama with a dozen or more plastic dinosaurs and jungle music playing. It became “The Dinosaur Exhibit” to everyone on campus. In retaliation, Clover took down the door to Thompson’s office and put up a brick wall (sans the mortar).
Clover wanted to be cremated in his kiln. Since this is not possible, his friends plan to honor his wishes by throwing one of his aprons and a few other personal effects, into the fire.
During the spring semester, Meadows got a call from campus security, telling him that Bill was standing in the way of the landscapers in front of the Lamar Visual Arts building, with the admonition from Clover for him to “come over immediately.”
Meadows said, “There’s Bill Clover standing in front of the last remaining tree of the old shrubbery…a Japanese magnolia.” Meadows went to the landscapers and said, “Nobody touches that tree.
“Bill saved that tree.”
And Clover’s tree will live on, just like his legacy.