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Born in upstate New York in 1952, John Van Alstine grew up in the southern Adirondack Mountains. After attending St. Lawrence University, Kent State University (BFA 1974), and Cornell University (MFA 1976), he joined the faculty at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, and later the University of Maryland, College Park, to teach drawing and sculpture. In 1986 he left teaching and moved to the New York City area to pursue studio work full time. In 1987, he purchased a ninteenth-century industrial complex on the banks of the Sacandaga River and returned to the Adirondacks, where he now lives and works in the restored historic structure. Van Alstine's work has been exhibited widely in the United States (including more than 45 solo exhibitions) as well as in Europe and Asia. He has completed many major large-scale outdoor, site-specific commissions. The book Bones of the Earth, Spirit of the Land (2001), recaps his first 25 years of work. Van Alstine's work is held in many private, public, and corporate collections in the United States and Europe.
On October 5, 2010, Van Alstine presented a public lecture in the RCAH Theatre, followed by a workshop for RCAH students. A dedication ceremony attended by Provost Kim Wilcox took place the next day in the north courtyard of Snyder-Phillips Hall. The outdoor portion of the event was followed by a reception in the LookOut! Gallery.