Irwin Whitaker was born in Wirt, Oklahoma, in 1919 where his father owned a successful oil and gas business. When the business caught fire and burned to the ground, the family moved to California where his father managed various food canneries during the 1930s and 40s, moving to the Monterrey Peninsula where the whole family worked for the fish canneries. Irwin was already a student of art in high school and as a teenager attended the parties of Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck of Cannery Row and Grapes of Wrath fame. When World War II broke out, Irwin enlisted in the army air force and was stationed on Saipan as photographer and cartographer. After the war, he began his Master of Fine Arts studies at Claremont College, California and teaching for a year at University of Oregon before accepting an Assistant Professor position on the faculty of MichiganStateUniversity in East Lansing teaching ceramics and drawing. He retired Professor Emeritus after 25 years of teaching to Arizona where he continued to work on his enamels and drawings until he lost his eyesight in the late 1980’s.
From the obituary:
Irwin Augustus Whitaker passed away on February 15, 2009 in Austin, Texas. He was 89 years old and known to family and friends as Gus. He is survived by his two children, Eric Whitaker, and Eve Whitaker and her husband Mathew Leibold, their two children, Gabriel and Neil Howe, and step-daughter Jane Cumberland and her two children, Matthew and Charles. He was preceded in death by his first wife of 29 years, Margaret Barringer Whitaker and his second wife of 36 years, Emily McGee Cumberland Whitaker.
Gus was born in Wirt, Oklahoma on October 19, 1919 and during the Great Depression his family moved to California. Gus grew up on the Monterrey Peninsula where his father managed a fishing cannery. This was at the time John Steinbeck was writing Cannery Row, and Gus was attending parties at Ed Rickets house as a young art student. Gus married his high school sweetheart, Margaret Ruth Barringer in 1941 and shortly thereafter joined the Army, fighting in the Pacific Theater. He told many stories of Saipan. After WWII ended, he returned to his home and wife. He attended college on the G.I. Bill, eventually receiving a Master of Fine Arts from Claremont College in California. He began his teaching career at Oregon State University. Soon after, Gus joined the Art Department of Michigan State University in 1950.
He was a highly skilled potter of elegant functional forms, exhibiting his work all over the country. He later used his skills in ceramic glazing to produce beautiful landscapes of enamels on copper. He retired a Full Professor in 1980.
After Margaret died of cancer, he married Emily McGee Cumberland Whitaker. They later relocated to southern Arizona. Together they authored a book, A Potter’s Mexico, traveling extensively to Mexican potting villages during the 1970s. They lived in the Tucson area until her passing in 2006. The last three years of his life was spent living in the home of his daughter, Eve and her husband Mathew, in the Dripping Springs TX area. Gus was surrounded by a loving and caring family until his passing.
Information provided by the artist’s grandson.