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Artist of the Month: Works of Huntingdon potter to be featured in State College ceramics show

by on September 30, 2019 2:48 PM

Jack Troy was teaching English in a high school outside of Philadelphia when he was first introduced, through a colleague and friend, to the art of throwing pottery.

“We each had young children and we had a lot to talk about, so I would go down after school and watch him work at the wheel. And for probably a month or so, it was just enough to watch him work and talk,” Troy says. “Then one day, I asked if he could be my teacher and he agreed, and I just couldn’t stop.”

That was 57 years ago, and Troy hasn’t stopped yet. Although his friend and mentor passed away shortly after that first lesson, Troy continued to study the craft on his own. He eventually went on to create a ceramics program at Juniata College, where he’d initially been hired to direct the freshman composition program. He continued to teach ceramics courses there for 39 years.

“It’s really nice for students to have another way of learning that’s tactile, not only based on reading and writing and listening to lectures,” he says. “There are so many different ways to solve problems; when you make things with your hands and you end up with an object, and you can drink out of your own cup or eat out of your own bowl, and you can share them with other people – it’s so humanizing. … I like teaching because I like vicariously experiencing the excitement when someone discovers the joy of that. It’s a marvelous thing.”

Troy has traveled to countries all over the world to teach and learn, has taught more than 250 workshops, and has written two books about ceramics, in addition to a book of poetry.

But as much as he enjoys teaching, he loves being a potter even more, and has devoted his 10 wooded acres in Huntingdon to the art. In addition to the home he lives in with his partner and fellow potter, Carolanne Currier, he built a studio and two large shed-like structures to house the brick kilns he also constructed himself – a gas-fired kiln and a large and a small wood-fired kiln.

Troy explains that the two different kinds of kilns produce very different kinds of art. The cave-like wood-fired kilns are used for his favorite form, an ancient Japanese technique known as “Anagama-fired” ceramics. Troy fires up his wood-fired kilns three times a year, loads them up with unglazed cups, pitchers, jars, and bowls he’s thrown, and then, with the help of a team of 10-18 like-minded potters, keeps stoking the fire for four or five days around the clock.  

“The ash floats up through the fire, it lands on the pots and then it gets so hot that the ash actually melts and makes a glaze. So all of these colors and the little runs that come down, they’re all things that you can never predict exactly, but when it works it’s really gorgeous,” he explains. “There’s a lot of chance and risk involved. … Wood firings sometimes can give a very small percentage of work that really turns out. Sometimes you just hope you get one or two really good pieces.” 

Troy’s finished wood-fired pieces often feature earthy browns and grays highlighted by bright oranges and reds. He uses the gas-fired kiln to produce more intentionally designed pieces.

"The results in a gas kiln are more predictable because you’re putting a glaze on the pieces, and then the firing matures the glaze, and you’re able to decorate and make patterns and designs. It’s not as risky as the wood-firing,” he explains.

Troy will display pieces representing both styles as the featured artist of the Form and Fire: Ceramics by Central Pennsylvania Artists show, which runs from October 4-27 at the Art Alliance Gallery Downtown.

At 81, Troy continues to travel and to support himself by selling his work. He will spend a month in New Zealand as a visiting artist next spring. He’ll also be selling pieces at his annual pottery sale on October 26 at his studio at 8002 Shively Road in Huntingdon, which will include the works of five local potters.

Ever the teacher, Troy sits down at the wheel in his workshop and effortlessly fashions a shallow bowl from a chunk of grey clay.

“It always seems like a small miracle, that you can take a ball of clay and turn it into something useful,” he says. “I just feel lucky to have found something that I like to do, and like to talk about and teach about and learn about. All those things go together.”


Karen Walker is a freelance writer in State College.


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