Tom Spleth is known as the grandfather of American studio slipcasting. He altered a common industrial process and made it something useful for the individual artist. Tom creates functional pottery, and architectural and sculptural ceramics. His long career as an artist also includes drawing and painting.
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Tom Spleth at MudFire
Tom Spleth Artist Bio
Born in Tulsa, Tom Spleth earned his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and his MFA from the College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Exhibitions include the Gregg Museum, North Carolina State University, the McColl Center, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, the Asheville Art Museum, and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Collections include Cameron Museum, Wilmington, NC; Illinois State University, Kohler Company, and the Rhode Island School of Design. Spleth has been awarded numerous public commissions through the North Carolina Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the North Carolina Art in State Buildings Program. Tom's career as an artist includes drawing, painting, functional pottery, and architectural and sculptural ceramics.
Tom Spleth and Process
Tom's cutting edge ceramic explorations start with a puddle of wet, fluid, plaster on the floor. As the material starts to set, he scoops and slashes and paddles the plaster, and a solid vertical form starts to appear and harden. He has eight to ten minutes where the plaster is workable, during which he must work quickly and intuitively.
He makes a waste mold from the original form, then casts a solid plaster model from the mold. This model is further refined, with a final production mold created from it. He slip casts large-scale porcelain objects from this final mold. Some are closed and remniscient of standing stones or monuments; and with others the tops are open and explicitly referencing pottery, a vase, and ceramic history.
Of the mad dash to rapidly craft form from the quickly hardening plaster, Tom notes "This act is akin to dancing with a partner that is constantly changing."
Tom Spleth on Cups
"On this ridge in the mountains where my home is, the wind is a beast that visits daily, but on this spring morning the air is warm and absolutely still, the sky flawless and pale blue, nearly white. The thousands of trees that I can see just beyond the greening lawn carry that magenta haze of new buds. Not a single leaf can be seen, but winter is only a memory today and the sun is hot. Above, at thirty thousand feet, a whispering jet lays down a fading contrail and then another crosses it. Here, the wasps have awakened and now single-mindedly seek the right location for the propagation of their species. I am reminded of my porcelain and why people like to pick it up. Its clear thin white body, filled with light, carries the same message I am receiving from the sky and the warmth of this day. There is an overwhelming feeling that a gift has been given."
"I am drinking coffee from an earthenware cup made by a friend. The coffee is bitter and harsh, left over from yesterday and burned in the microwave this morning. The low-fat milk that whitens it is no substitute for creamy half-and-half, but the refrigerator is understocked. The coffee reminds me of my adulthood, my gray hair, my eventual demise, the relief I am feeling from my sorry addiction to caffeine. I welcome these thoughts because I am set apart thereby from the illusion that nature is benign. She would be just as happy if this setting were a blasted crater on the dark side of the moon."
"Most of my recent pottery is porcelain cups filled with the gift of light and precision. On their sides, in tiny script, I place verbal messages, little reminders that make the cups complete...[examples of profanity edited out]. Only these exact words can carry their tiny sweet messages of heartbreak and awareness. No image or abstract mark can make such a declaration. Words float in our brains like DNA floats in our cells, and when a customer picks up one of my cups and reads, he or she is captured by the inescapable recognition that a fellow traveler has been here. This is the humanity of profanity. The words on the cups elicit a bit of uncontrolled laughter, a sigh of relief, and confirmation that we shall abide."