About Cleve Overton

Cleve Overton’s life was a journey of self-expression. Whatever he put his mind and large hands to, art, crafts, writing, welding, construction, or cooking, the result was always amazing and pleasing. Both in teaching and working, he moved in a fluid progression through various media.

Early History – Through 1970

Cleve welding

Cleve’s first big adventure was as a Black soldier in the segregated U.S. Army in Japan in 1945. He used the G.I. Bill to attend the New School for Social Research, The Brooklyn Museum Art School, and Greenwich House to study art and photography. His brother Gene taught him to weld and he worked in the shipyards of Staten Island while opening a pottery studio, The Potter’s Wheel, there in the late Sixties.

He gave pottery classes there, built kick-wheels for the students, built the kilns to fire pots, dug the clay from S.I,’s clay pits. He was politically active in Staten Island Congress of Racial Equality and posed as a potential renter to expose redlining policies. He was a leader of the “Blacks on Staten Island History Project” and attended the 1963 March on Washington.

He was an art professor at Baruch and Staten Island Colleges in NY. He exhibited at Richmondtown Restauration, Staten Island Community College, Karamiekos Gallery and Baruch College Gallery and was a board member of the S.I. Council on the Arts.

1970’s – 2020

Cleve and his wife Jude bought land in Pennsylvania and he built a beautiful house on it using recycled material without a blueprint. When fuel prices soared in the Seventies, he welded wood stoves and opened a wood stove business. He started a trailer business, welding custom trailers for hauling everything from motorcycles to heavy equipment.

In 1985 Cleve joined Jude in Zaire where she was Peace Corps Associate Director. Returning to the U.S., they bought a fixer-upper in DC in 1989 and Cleve entirely renovated it so beautifully over the years that it sold in 2015 for 9 times more than it had cost. Cleve accompanied Jude on jobs to West and Central Africa for a few years and recycled whatever materials he found to make art collages. He exhibited in dozens of solo and group art shows in NY, DC, MD, VA and the National Museum in Dakar, Senegal. He was always photographing; he was even arrested in Zaire for photographing a street sign.

Cleve with Zairian Masks

He was an art professor at Baruch and Staten Island Colleges in NY. He exhibited at Richmondtown Restauration, Staten Island Community College, Karamiekos Gallery and Baruch College Gallery and was a board member of the S.I. Council on the Arts.

Cleve Overton portrait

His work is all over the world because he generously gave it to those he loved. Besides pottery, his art includes woodcuts, wood cityscapes, electronic collages, mixed media, installations, paintings, and in his last years, tin collages. He published 5 books, 2 of them of his photographs. And so very much more. He passed away peacefully at age 91 on April 29, 2020.

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