Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Keith Thomson. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Keith, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Can you talk to us about how you learned to do what you do?
Even though I achieved a masters degree in ceramics, I failed at the pottery wheel. As many of you might know, if you’ve tried, the pottery wheel is extremely difficult. This spinning chunk of clay on the wheel takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental strength, dexterity and balance to control. As the pottery grows the forces constantly change and you must respond to every reaction of the clay, instantly with changing pressure from both hands at the same time as well as maintaining or adjusting the wheel speed with the foot pedal. That being said, in art school we had no instruction. I got on the wheel, failed time after time, the clay flopping around on the wheel with no understanding of why it was so hard to control this small piece of malleable material. I fumbled my way through the minimum requirements of the course and decided this was not for me, instead mastering and enjoying other construction techniques and following a path of sculptural ceramics. It wasn’t till after graduation, I had the opportunity to establish a small studio in a craft center where I was required to demonstrate the pottery wheel to visitors. Not daunted by my previously failed, experience on the wheel, I spent hours everyday on the wheel and quickly began to self learn, the craft of the potter. Now this period of time at art school, 1984-1988 and the craft center 1988-1992 was pre You Tube. These days if you want to learn the pottery wheel, there’s multiple forms of learning at the click of a button. Easy you might think, but no. Watching a video and putting your hands, physically on the clay is still not quite that simple but it can help a bit.
I moved to McQueeney,Texas in 1992 from my home in Edinburgh ,Scotland after responding to an ad for a production potters position. This was a game changer for my growth as a potter. I was now required to throw hundreds of pots, small and large, all the same shape and size. From 1992-1998, my skills grew stronger and I most definitely learned a huge amount from the other potters that I worked with. This level of throwing pots required a new skill set of understanding weights of clay, measurements and shrinkage rates for every different form, over 100 in all.
Today, my experience at art school and years of time learning this craft, I appreciate how difficult it is. This experience has molded the way I now teach pottery lessons in my studio. Spending just 1 hour of intensive instruction with a beginner on the wheel in a private lesson, they can enjoy the process with some success. Something I was unable to do in my solo struggles in art school.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a masters degree in Art & Design with a specialty in ceramics. After graduation, I briefly had my own pottery studio in Edinburgh before moving to South Texas in 1992 for a full time potters position. Working for a large production studio allowed me to grow my skills and after getting married in 1998, moved to Fort Worth and opened my current space .The Firehouse Pottery is located in a former fire station built in 1927. The studio uses the former fire truck garage and the adjoining gallery space was the former fire crew’s bunk room.
Today I produce a retail line of utilitarian, stoneware pottery in 5 bright colors, very much influenced by mid century European design and Fiesta ware. Along with my gallery retail, I do custom orders and wholesale for individuals and business’s. My design degree and over 30 years of pottery experience, helps me with the process of working with a clients to create unique one of a kind, hand crafted pottery items, ideal for a personal use, or wedding gifts etc. This line of customized craftsmanship is not an area that many other local potters specialize in. For business’s , I work with many local coffee shops and craft breweries to make customized mugs or tumblers for use in their business and for retail sale. In these difficult times for many small business’s and artists, I have found my self getting even busier. With the overseas supply chain shrinking, I have growing line of enquiries for pottery items that may have normally been purchased outside of the US. With this recent growth it means, I’m becoming increasingly stretched to keep up with orders. It has proven to be extremely difficult to find help with the level of skill and craftsmanship required for this level of production. Although busy with production , I still make time for my passion of teaching the pottery wheel to beginners. A private lesson or small group is the perfect way to experience the craft of the potters wheel. I am most recently proud of producing wares for Capital One’s newly opened DFW passenger lounge bar and a Taco Restaurant opening soon, downtown Fort Worth. I believe my very high standards of craftsmanship have lead to my success as a potter and I look forward to working with future clients.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
One of the most rewarding aspects is in connection to my teaching. Many people who come to me for pottery lessons have never tried it before, know how difficult it is and then tend to have very low aspirations. It’s so rewarding that only after an hours lesson, their view has changed. They have enjoyed the experience and created several pieces of pottery that they are so proud of. At the end of almost every lesson, whether it be a 5 year old or 95 yr old student, I hear “Keith, that was so much fun and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had”
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
After graduating with my ceramics degree, I was able to go straight into my own studio and create pottery for 3 years.On moving to Texas in 1992, I continued my ceramics growth, working in a larger production pottery for 7 years. I then got married and moved from the San Antonio area to Fort Worth. This was a major pivot point in my life, not only getting married but now working for my father in law as a shipping supervisor in a large sheet metal shop. The opportunity of a very well paid job with all its benefits was definitely a switch from what I had been used. The down side was, I was now no longer working as an artist. I tried to continue pottery in my spare time but my full time job was physically and mentally hard work, draining me of any energy to be creative. This interlude did last a few years and when I got the opportunity to get back to my pottery and open ‘The Firehouse studio’ it was like a rebirth. Even a major income and benefits loss was made up by getting back to what I loved doing.