A Happy Accident, Clay and NCECA

In 1956 I went off to the University of Southern California to study architecture. I needed one more elective. While standing in line to add the course, I asked the person in front of me for a suggestion. “Why not ceramics?” was the reply.

The ceramic studio was humming with activity and my instructor was Susan Peterson. I was mesmerized by the potters wheel. Everyone was friendly and helpful. It was just like family. I quickly became friends with some of the other students including those in the graduate program. I will never forget Bob Richards from Costa Rica. From that time on I knew ceramics would be my world.

My understanding of the nature of clay was quite limited. Functional pots were the main drawing card. I had no idea where my work with clay would lead me. One Saturday afternoon I came to the pot shop where Carlton Ball, the other instructor, was throwing tall cylinders on the wheel. He had pulled small handles and attached them to the cylinders. Innocently, I asked him what was he making. He responded, “Fence posts”. What an aha moment! That proved to be a pivotal point in my personal creative direction.

The following year I transferred to the Ohio State University where I could enroll as a resident and pay $90 per quarter for tuition. The clay environment continued to have the same friendly atmosphere and I soon became a part of another family of ceramists.

Just after graduation I was drafted into the army. I accepted an invitation to take Army Intelligence training and therefore extended my military tour to three years. Part of my tour was spent in Korea. While there I had a look at that country’s magnificent clay history. The clay bug never left me.

Following the military, I taught ceramics in an all-girls high school in Baltimore for three years. Then I had the good fortune to take a tenure-track position at Towson University. During my thirty-five years of teaching ceramics at Towson I enjoyed numerous clay conferences. Early on at Penn State University, Dave Dontigney and Jim Stevenson established Super Mud. This wonderful gathering of clay people was really the forerunner of NCECA. I attended every NCECA conference except when I was teaching on a Fulbright in Bristol, England, and Oldenburg, Germany. NCECA always gave me food for thought. It broadened my understanding of the art and enriched my teaching. Over the years of going to NCECA, I met many people who continue to be my good friends to this day. I continue to stay in touch with Don Reitz, Coille Hooven, Doug Baldwin, Jim Leedy, Nancy Selvin, Jack Troy and many more. I have also added friends from Europe to include Wally Keeler, Mo Jupp, Nick Homoky, Klaus Schultz and Ruth Barrett-Danes. Sadly, there have been some who have recently passed away. I will always remember Janet Mansfield, Victor Spinski and Sylvia Hyman.

One day I was reminiscing those of us who are getting along in age and mentioned it to Val Cushing over an email where I was wondering about an exhibition of clay people over the age of 70. He thought that was a good idea, so I assembled a group of 43 noted clay artists all over the age of 70 with the intention of presenting the exhibition at the next NCECA conference in Milwaukee. Luckily, with the help of Paul Sacaridiz, we found a venue at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside for the 2014 NCECA conference. Each artist will have two pieces in the show. The exhibition will be on the bus route and will run from Monday, March 17 to Friday, July 18. I can’t find a better way to showcase those amazing artists who have contributed so much to our ceramic world. I know there are many more who deserve to be on the list and I apologize for excluding anyone.

In conclusion, my long association with the world of ceramics has given me a rich life filled with good friends, travel, and a healthy creative spirit. I just had my book, Looking At Art Philosophically published. Those thoughts about art would never have been possible without my association with NCECA and my friends in clay. I continue to make my clay sculpture in my home studio here in Aiken, South Carolina where I have loving support from my wife, Pauline.




A potter without clay is like a poet without words, a visionary without a dream, a bird without wings, an actor without an audience.


Ode to an Aging Potter

I can feel the sun upon me

Standing under the sky of blue.

I can feel the sun upon me

Oh how I wish I was twenty-two.

I can feel the sun upon me

How glad I am to be alive.

I can feel the sun upon me

Now that I am seventy-five.

I can feel the sun upon me

As I grow to see another day.

I can feel the sun upon me

And I can feel the touch of clay.


We age like clay, the older the better.


Tom Supensky

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