Buddhist sculptor thanks UMass

MassLive.com, February 10, 2010

Amherst, MA (USA) -- Thomas Matsuda is a sculptor in the Buddhist tradition, whose work appears on the campuses of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Smith College in Northampton and at the Leverett Peace Pagoda, as well as in private collections worldwide.

A review of an exhibit of his work several years ago at Smith College said, "Tom Matsuda is quickly becoming one of the foremost Buddhist sculptors in North America."

"Japanese monks inspired me to study art in Japan," Matsuda says. So following receipt of his bachelor of fine arts in painting and drawing from the Pratt Institute in New York City, Matsuda first apprenticed under the Japanese sculptor Koukei Eri of Kyoto for two years, then lived in a mountain village where he carved more than two hundred Buddha figures for temples, shrines, and patrons. Thirteen years later, Matsuda returned to the Pioneer Valley to work on his master's degree in fine arts at UMass.

Matsuda says the master's program at UMass attracted him because it offered "teaching experience, good facilities and excellent faculty." The area is rich culturally, which he also found attractive. While at UMass, he worked as a teaching assistant and as a gallery assistant, and got involved in the New York Professional Outreach Program, which connected him with the New York City art scene. He also took advantage of the collaborative agreement between the five colleges, which allows students enrolled at one institution to take classes at the others. "At Smith College I audited a class of Taisetsu Unno, a Buddhism professor, who I found very influential," he says. Active with the Leverett Peace Pagoda, his involvement there led to commissioned work while in graduate school.

Today, Matsuda lives in Conway and is an associate professor of art at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, where he continues to teach. He creates contemporary and Buddhist sculptures for home altars and large commissions for public view, synthesizing eastern and western philosophies in his work. Matsuda says he often runs into other UMass alumni in the Pioneer Valley "through teaching, current colleagues at MWCC, former colleagues at HCC, other artists in the community, and fellow grad students I keep in touch with." Matsuda has retained a connection with the university through the NYPOP program and by collaborating with faculty, dance and music groups on sculpture and performance pieces.

"UMass gave me the opportunity to re-connect and develop my contemporary work. I made connections and gained valuable teaching experience," says Matsuda. "Going to UMass opened up more opportunities than I ever imagined possible." He says he will remain in the Pioneer Valley for the same reasons he came back: "Beautiful countryside, friends, culture, family roots, and the Peace Pagoda."