Clay Culture: Back to School

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1 The original log cabin on the Radca ranch. The center portion was built by the Young family and was the birth place of Denton True “Cy” Young.

After 40 years of honing his practice, Tom Radca has decided it’s time to go back to school. But this time, he’s the teacher and the school is in his own back yard. Check out the Radca Ranch School of Ceramics.

So why do I want to start a school at the age of 65?

I’ve had a strong desire to teach most of my clay career—although I was convinced by my instructor Norm Schullman to concentrate on my own work, and leave the teaching until after I had developed my work first. I recall a John Glick workshop I took during those development days. He told us that he had a seven-year waiting list for his dinnerware and someone asked him, “Why are you here if you have a wait list that long?” to which he replied, “To give back.” Those words stuck with me, and now I’m ready to give back.

What I have to offer is 40 years of experience and not being afraid to try anything. I had 22 years of free gas for my kiln, so I made and made; fired and fired. That 10,000 hours thing, I got there fast, but it was a labor of love. Teaching effectively was a learning curve for me. In the beginning, I didn’t explain things fully and my students would ask questions about processes I thought I had covered. I had to learn to become a better teacher and then I taught a lot of workshops to hone my skills. Now I am ready to teach at my own school.

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2 The 35×55-foot school building.

Building Momentum

During this first year of classes, I am welcoming students of all skill levels. The curriculum will generally include intermediate to advanced throwing on the wheel, tile making, handbuilding, custom glazing, and firing techniques. The range of techniques will be tailored to the students in the class and the length of the class. My throwing class will not be for beginners.

This first year will be filled with three-day and one-week classes, as this format works well for students of various skill levels. The three-day classes will be a demo workshop with one firing, which will require students to bring bisque ware with them to the class. I also plan to teach a tile making and glazing class. Anyone can slice tiles off a block of clay, which is how my assistant Margit and I make tile. The glazing class will be simple and straightforward. In my experience it is important to learn how to use one glaze well before adding other variables. The one-week classes will be intense so that students can go home with a completed tile project that they made, start to finish.

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3 Radca preparing to bend a wheel-thrown vessel down into a 35-inch-diameter platter.

In 2017, I plan to offer two-week classes for intermediate to advanced students. This will include learning to throw large-format vessels, including altered plates. When I first attempted throwing 35-inch diameter plates, I made a total of 75 one winter with only five finished pieces to show for all that effort. I learned a lot from that experience that I can share with those who want to throw big.

I will also demonstrate my loose way of throwing because from time to time someone will say, “I wish I could be as loose as you.” The topics to be covered include collapsing a plate after it is thrown, slumping it over a metal convex form, and using a rolling pin to distort it. Or, once they are collapsed, how to rip a piece out of the lip and replace it with a textured piece of clay. My favorite way to texture is to throw a piece of clay onto the wood block that I have textured with a chain saw.

Building Facilities

My goal is for students to leave here fired up about clay and glaze, and be super excited, energized, and eager to get home and get to work on their own projects.

The studio and dormitory can accommodate 10–12 students. There is 7000-square feet of studio space, with three electric kilns, five gas kilns, a separate glazing area, plus a wheel and an individual work area for each student. My wife, Betsy, and I decided to build living accommodations for students on the property because we live so far out in the country in Ohio, on a state registered tree farm. My family and friends planted 18,000 trees the first six years we lived here. We now have a pine forest you can walk through and have picnics in the woods. I’m proud of the land and think it is an inspiring place for artists to explore new ideas.

A typical workshop day starts with breakfast in the common area of the dorm. Students have access to a fully stocked kitchen and may prepare their own breakfast and dinner—lunch is provided. Studio class time includes demonstrations followed by individualized instruction based on the students needs and interests, then time to work independently. The studio is always open, and students are encouraged to work as early or as late as they desire.

I have had two great teachers in my life, Angelo Garzio and Norm Schullman. Discipline and inspiration is the gift that they gave to me, and now I would like to share that with my own students.

the author Tom Radca operates a studio and school in Port Washington, Ohio, (two hours south of Cleveland, two hours East of Columbus, and two hours west of Pittsburgh). To learn more, visit www.tomradca.com.

 

The handbuilding and tile making area in the school building. 5 Radca firing an old electric kiln, which has been converted into a gas kiln.

 

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