Kaiyah Seawright Obituary, Death – James Seawright, an artist and professor emeritus of visual arts at the Lewis Center for the Arts, passed away on February 12 in Middletown, New York, due to Parkinson’s disease-related complications while receiving hospice care at home. He was 86 years old. He was 85. His works can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, and a number of other museums located all over the world. This distinction has earned him the title of one of the most influential technological artists and creators of kinetic sculpture.
Edmund “Mike” Keeley, the Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English, emeritus, and the Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Creative Writing, emeritus, invited Seawright to come to Princeton after seeing his work in the 1967 Whitney Annual. Seawright accepted the invitation. He became a member of the teaching staff in 1974 and remained there for the next three decades, during which time he was instrumental in the Program in Visual Arts’ implementation of significant alterations and expansions at its location at 185 Nassau St. In 2009, he became an emeritus professor at the university.
Seawright was born on May 22, 1936 in Jackson, Mississippi, however he spent the majority of his childhood in Greenwood. After graduating from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in English, he joined the Navy and worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant in the engineering and operations division. While at sea, he self-taught the principles of sculpture by making use of his expertise with various types of machinery. After being discharged from the military, he attended classes at the Art Students League in New York City.
In addition to that, he worked in the field of sound and lighting for a number of decades, including working as the technical director of the dance company that was directed by his wife of 62 years, Mimi Garrard. “As the godfather of the creative arts at Princeton, Jim warmly welcomed me into the family at 185 Nassau when I became director of the Program in Theater and Dance in 1993,” said Michael Cadden, University lecturer in theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts and interim chair of the Lewis Center. Cadden is also the director of the Program in Theater and Dance at Princeton University.
The quality that comes to mind first when I think of Jim is hospitality, according to Cadden. “It’s a word that’s been worn out by commercial use, but it once referred to the need to provide a warm hearth and a welcome to anyone showed up at your doorstep. Now, however, it’s just a word that everyone uses. He and Mimi became well-known for the lively get-togethers that they hosted in the “Vis Arts house,” which was their residence on Bank Street. Jim’s delicious food and sound guidance were both sources of nourishment for me.