He grew up in the hills of Berkeley, California, attending Berkeley High School, where he began his work as a sculptor and artist. He went on to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts (where his mother had studied), before transferring to the Architecture Program at the University of California, Berkeley. There he had the good fortune to work with both Buckminster Fuller and Charles Eames. Inspired by Fuller’s geodesic dome, he led a student design team to construct a geodesic dome— the first of its kind to be built on the West Coast—as a bird sanctuary for the Oakland California Park Department on Lake Merritt, where the structure still stands. It was in that program that he met Linn Baldwin, who he would marry in 1956. From 1957-59 he served in the U.S. Army, stationed for a time in Germany, working as a draftsman. Underhill earned his bachelor’s (1960) and master’s (1961) degrees in art from UC Berkeley, studying under noted ceramic artist Peter Voulkos. Underhill was on site studying and working with Voulkos when Voulkos made his first cast, bronze sculpture. At that time, Bill began to turn clay work into waxes to be cast using the lost-wax technique. This, he said, became his “chariot of the gods,” his way of expressing himself, and establishing a unique path for him as a creator of cast metal vessels.
In 1965, he and his family moved to Brooklyn, where he began teaching at the Pratt Institute and New York University. During this period, he received several commissions for large steel installations through J. Gordon Lippincott. Significant early works were Ursa Major at the Lynden Sculpture Garden near Milwaukee, WI and The Bride and Groom, at the Museum of the Creative Process in Manchester, VT. In 1969, Alfred University offered him a teaching position. There he established a bronze foundry at the School of Art and Design and taught sculpture and drawing in the Division of Sculpture and Dimensional Studies from 1969 until his retirement in 1997. In 1990, he installed the King Alfred Statue, cast in bronze, in the center of the Alfred University campus. He is remembered for his many contributions to the life of the art program at Alfred and for his impact on the many students with whom he worked. Throughout his career, he made distinct geometric pots on stands and legs, as well as busts, welded metal, and cast iron, aluminum, and ceramic vessels and sculptural forms. His work is held in numerous permanent collections including the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA; the Oakland Art Museum, in Oakland, CA; the Museum of Arts and Design, in New York City; the Racine Art Museum, Racine WI; the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York City; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA. Photos of a sample of his work can be viewed at http://billunderhill.com/
After retirement he and Linda settled in Wellsville, NY, where they were actively engaged in the community and Bill continued to create work in his studio and teach classes at the local art center. He was fortunate to have a rich and loving community in Wellsville, including his dear friends Brian and Mandy Oglesbee and Marilyn Embser, among many others.
There will be an exhibition of large number of Underhill’s bronze vessels at the Alfred University Ceramics Museum, opening on April 21, 2022. A memorial service will be held shortly thereafter (details forthcoming).
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to a cause that you think is reflective of Bill’s life and values. Among his many interests, he was a supporter of the Sloop Clearwater, the environmental flagship of the Hudson River. https://www.clearwater.org/index.html. To leave online condolences please visit www.embserfuneralhome.com.