By Kurt Shaw
TRIBUNE-REVIEW ART CRITIC
Sunday, December 19, 2004
Tom Turner is a potter's potter. He even has a
type of clay named after him, "Tom Turner
Porcelain," which he invented and is currently
being manufactured by Standard Ceramic Supply
Co. of Carnegie.
However, it's not his clay that has brought this
Ohio potter his esteemed reputation, nor the
fact that he has taught ceramics at leading
craft schools throughout the United States, but
his 43-year career during which he has been
producing some of the most refined works known
in the field.
Nearly 60 of Turner's bowls, vases, jars and
cups can be found at The Clay Place in Shadyside
in the one-man show "Tom Turner: Attention to
"My pots are 180 degrees from the current
trend," Turner says of the works on view, and
he's right. Present-day tastes favor wood-fired
pots. Heavy and lopsided, the most eye-catching
usually are covered in thick, earthy glazes.
Some look so craggy and crude, it's as if they
were spewn from the mouth of Mt. Vesuvius
Aside from the otherwise clean lines and slick
glazes, part of the reason Turner's pots are so
refined is his signature use of porcelain,
particularly his own.
"It's really the best throwing porcelain that I
have ever touched, and it's whiter than anything
that we have been able to test," Turner says.
But what is really amazing about Turner's
porcelain is its strength. In March, Turner
wowed the crowd at the annual conference of the
National Council on Education in the Ceramic
Arts by hammering nails into a two-by-four with
a coffee mug made of the stuff.
That's where Elvira Peake, owner of The Clay
Place, ran into Turner, and that's how he ended
up having a show at Peake's gallery, which is
known for showing works by some of the top names
in contemporary ceramics.
Peake says that since the show opened in early
November, potters have been coming in and
flipping the bowls over just to look at the
bare, unglazed part of the porcelain body that
can be found on the underside of each work. They
try to tell whether Turner made it with his
newly invented porcelain, which has been in
production for about a year.
But beside all the hoopla surrounding his
porcelain, what is most interesting about
Turner's work is its elegance. A Turner pot has
a certain sense of refinement that comes only
with years of working with clay. And although
his style is uniquely personal, it does have
hints of influences from the past, particularly
that of Asian ceramics.
"I'm not trying to make Japanese pots, yet there
is a very strong influence from age-old pots,"
For example, several vases covered in a
honey-colored glaze look to have a Chinese
influence, as evidenced by their fluted necks,
which are similar to the pottery of China's
T'ang dynasty (618 -- 906 A.D.), which is why
Turner has titled them "Tang Vases."
Other works also show signs of Chinese
influence, such as a small vase covered in a
brilliant oxblood glaze that has three tiny fish
heads protruding near the mouth. The fish heads
are an obvious nod to the dragon and animal
motifs that were incorporated into some T'ang
and Sung (960-1279) dynasty wares.
The other thing that's particular to Turner's
pots is their glaze. Turner says he relies on
the "classic glazes," such as oxblood, celadon,
temmoku and ash. "These are all glazes that go
back hundreds and hundreds of years," he says.
What sets them apart from the more popular
glazes of today is their finicky nature,
because, Turner says, "All of the colorants are
metallic oxides -- iron, copper, cobalt,
manganese." Hence, all of them have to be fired
in a reduction process to control the outcome of
According to Turner, it can be tricky. "You
know, it makes it very frustrating because if
one thing is off, you don't get what you want,"
For a constant experimenter who not only creates
his own porcelains and glazes, but also designed
and built much of his own equipment, this suits
Turner just fine. In fact, he takes so much
pleasure and pride in the glazing process that
he often names his pots for the glazes.
"I tend to describe pots by their glazes. I
don't give them names like a painter gives
paintings," he says when asked why a small bowl
covered in a beautiful blue speckle has been
named "Blue Tea Dust."
But for all of his experimentation, Turner still
holds fast to the traditions he learned long ago
as a student of what he calls the "Midwest
school of art pottery" during the 1960s.
That's why Turner says that, in spite of the
trends, he strives to make the best pots he
"In my 43 years (as a potter), I've seen a lot
of things come and go, but I try to make pots
that, hopefully, will be good forever. I don't
just want them to be good in 2004. I want these
pots to stand up to the test of time."
Kurt Shaw can be reached at