Tom Turner: Understanding Porcelain 2

Tom Turner has spent a lifetime pursuing perfection in clay. From his earliest attempts in high school back in the sixties to his latest trial-and-error experiments 50 years later, Tom has never lost his zeal for discovery. In this second installment of his two-part series, Understanding Porcelain...(Scroll for more.)


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Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes

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…Tom leads you through his glazing and firing processes to help you better understand the complexities and nuances of these two critical stages of the process. From searching for glaze materials and understanding how to blend them to firing kilns to get the best results, Tom’s insights from years of experience can help you become the potter you want to be.

How to expand your glazes

Before potters were able to order glaze materials from suppliers, they searched the ground around them for what they needed. Tom lives on a mountain in North Carolina and shows you examples of glaze materials found in his driveway and on the hillside. While not many potters will choose to grind their own materials, Tom shows you the process of how and what to blend to discover new and exciting glazes for your work. You’ll learn the basics for carrying out your own tests and the importance of each step. Over the years, Tom has done tens of thousands of tests and every kiln firing adds to the growing total and his understanding of the materials.

Gilding the lily

Glazing your pots for the best results requires skills and experience. The glazing on Tom’s pots is exacting and precise—no unexpected drips or runs. He demonstrates the skills necessary to achieve perfection in glazing from bisque firing at the right temperature and applying wax resist to dipping, pouring and spraying. Again, you’ll learn the importance of considering every detail in the process and how to work with precision (have you ever trimmed your glaze?).

Insuring the magic

Firing the kiln has as much to do with glaze outcome as the glaze ingredients themselves. While Tom originally fired only gas at cone 9 and above, he now fires exclusively electric and in oxidation. To get the same results as he did with high-fire reduction, he’s experimented extensively with firing and cooling schedules. You’ll learn the steps you need to take for your glazes and your firing range to achieve the results you’re looking for. It’s not easy and Tom reflects on some of the disappointments, but conquering variables yields some of the best results that look like magic was involved.

About Tom

Tom received his undergraduate degree in Art from Illinois State University in 1968. He taught crafts while in the Army and then was asked to establish a ceramic art program for the College of Architecture at Clemson University. He did so in 1971 and taught there until 1976 when he resigned to work full time in his studio. He received his M.F.A at Clemson in 1973, moved to Florida in 1979, moved in 1982 to Medina, Ohio, moved to Delaware, Ohio in 1986 and moved to Mars Hill, North Carolina in 2005. He has worked with high fired porcelain for more than 35 years. He has taught at the leading craft schools in the country such as Penland, Arrowmont, The Archie Bray Foundation and has conducted workshops in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Washington D.C., Oregon, California, Colorado, Texas, New Jersey and Michigan (over 125 in all). He has been visiting artist at Illinois State University and The Ohio State University.

Major shows include Young Americans 1969, which toured the U.S.; the Marietta Crafts National 1974,1977,1981; The 33rd Scripps College Invitational; Functional Ceramics at Wooster, Ohio 1978,1981,1983; 35 Artists of The Southeast, which toured for two years; New Directions: Fiber and Clay, touring for three years; 20 American Potters, which toured the world and became collections of American Embassies; The Emergence of a New Tradition: American Porcelain, at The Hand and Spirit Gallery; and American Porcelain: New Expressions in an Ancient Art, shown at the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and then toured the United States and the world. The Covered Jar in the exhibition is part of the National Collection of Fine Arts. He has also exhibited in over 150 invitationals and over 50 juried shows.

His work has appeared in Craft Horizons, American Craft, Ceramics Monthly, Studio Potter, The Washingtonian, House Beautiful, Southern Living, Ceramica (Spain), Ceramic Review (England) and in numerous books.
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