Merlin Szasz, 1936–2013

It is with a great sense of loss that the campus community has learned of the death of Professor Merlin Szasz, who passed away on Tuesday, April 16 at age 76.


Merlin touched the lives of thousands of students and the entire campus community since he began teaching here in 1960, arriving to work in the Sculpture department right after earning his MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art.  

Two years later he moved to Foundation Studies, where he spent the next half century introducing first-year students to the challenges of 3D work. He also earned the John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching along the way.


“It’s that first-year experience where the most changes occur in terms of ways of thinking and dealing with ideas related to visual language,” Merlin noted in a video about Foundation Studies made several years ago. “It’s the most dramatic period in students’ four years.”


In his own practice, Merlin made exquisitely crafted bronze sculpture and handled a range of commissions, including creating a classically beautiful Presidential Chain of Office for RISD. Examples of his medal work are part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection and in 2009 he earned the American Numismatic Association’s Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture.

Merlin was also known on campus and in his longtime hometown of Foster, RI for his enormous commitment to community and for his willingness to ask hard questions and analyze situations with the same critical rigor he demanded of his students.


With Dean of Foundation Studies Joanne Stryker at a recent celebration of his work

When summing up what goes on in Foundation Studies, Merlin verbalized what everyone who knew him could plainly see: “We don’t put a superficial effort into this,” he said. ”Everyone [in Foundation] is very committed and very passionate about what they do.”

Alumni with memories of how Merlin influenced your development at RISD are encouraged to email your thoughts to

38 notes


  1. katesweater reblogged this from ourrisd
  2. carlyayres reblogged this from ourrisd
  3. keepcalmandstruton reblogged this from ourrisd and added:
    Ever since my second semester freshman year, Merlin never neglected to flag me down on the street and have a quick word,...
  4. pizzas reblogged this from ourrisd and added:
    Damn, his class was fun as hell. Lots of good memories.
  5. numbersarepeopletoo reblogged this from ourrisd
  6. velotopia reblogged this from risdallnighter and added:
    Merlin taught me more than I can possibly recount in a microblog. Thank you, sir.
  7. inklingchild reblogged this from cacophonila
  8. cacophonila reblogged this from ourrisd and added:
    Merlin was my foundations 3D professor. He was a very experienced man with lots of wit about him, and a great teacher.
  9. thebinaryline reblogged this from ourrisd
  10. yuckling reblogged this from ourrisd and added:
    Merlin taught my 2nd semester 3D class. He was amazing and inspiring. His passing is an incredible loss to our...
  11. risdallnighter reblogged this from ourrisd and added:
    It is with a great sense of loss that the campus community has learned of the death of Professor Merlin Szasz, who...
  12. ourrisd posted this