Twenty-five years ago, Tom Wintczak’s interest in antique pottery compelled him to take a pottery class at the University of Southern Indiana that changed his life.
“Once I touched the clay, I knew I had to do this,” he says.
Tom works in a style of pottery that dates back to Colonial America, known as redware. Redware takes its name from the distinctive color created by the amount of iron in the clay that emerges during firing. In the 18th and 19th centuries, German immigrants made simple redware for everyday use, because the riverbed clay was easy to find close to the earth’s surface.
Instead of leaving it in the raw, red color with clear glaze, Tom follows the techniques of master potters of the period, letting his redware pitchers, pie plates, jugs and platters dry overnight before adding another layer of lighter color clay. He then uses either sgraffito (carving through the top layer) or slip-trailing (drizzling clay on the surface like icing on a cookie) to make the traditional designs.
Tom’s designs are inspired by the nature surrounding his 1850s log studio, the history of nearby New Harmony and his research into German folk symbolism. He also incorporates personal touches into the traditional designs for commissioned pieces.
“I will incorporate the prayer from family dinner as an etching on a platter or put personal details inside the tulip leaves on a jug,” Tom says. “The redware one sees in museums today were these kinds of special family heirloom pieces.”
In addition to the honor of being an Indiana Artisan, Tom has been juried in annually as one of America’s best traditional artists by Early American Life magazine since 2008.
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