Studio Artist Interview: Tom Carli


I grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota.  Wide open spaces, a horizontal place with great sunrises and sunsets.

There was not one art class in my high school, and there was no interest in it on my part. The first art classes I took were at Valley City State University in my second year.  In the clay class I took, from the start, the medium drew me in.  Moving the clay around and having results happen instantly just fit me.  I still have the first cup with a handle that I made.  It puts a smile on my face to see how far I have come.  


My first teaching job was in Art— K-12 in the LeRoy-Ostrander School District. I set up the first art program there, then later taught in the Osseo school district, at Brooklyn Junior High, Osseo Senior High, and Maple Grove Senior High. My total years of teaching: 35! But the best job I have had is the daycare for our granddaughter. It is so great to be able to be a part of her life.

When I came out of school into my first teaching job, learning the craft of teaching took most of my creative energy.  I felt teaching was an honorable profession and I had a lot to learn to become a good teacher. I always made some time for clay, sometimes not much, but it was always there.  I read a lot of books, Bernard Leach's A Potter’s Book had a big impact on me; functional forms became my main interest from the get-go. 

Tell us a little bit about your work: 

I’ve been at NCC for about 15 years. I have had the opportunity to grow and become a better potter.  The Clay Center’s workshops, visiting artists, and the studio potters create an atmosphere that is caring, and open to sharing of ideas and information.  I have been attracted to both stoneware and porcelain, and do a lot of work in both mediums.  The areas of wood and soda-firing work well with my forms. Soda is the firing method I work with now. I use a lot of slips, raw clay body, and glaze to help emphasize my forms.  I like making covered forms. I like solving visual problems in an intuitive way. Using my hands, mind, and heart has always been what holds my passion to work with clay.  

I work in a direct way and try to do as much on the wheel as possible.  I try to keep the tool selection to just a few; I take work off the wheel by hand and put it on a ware board to go back in later and alter it.  At present, I do a lot of altering of my forms. I have been using stoneware and have been very much into faceting the sides to the form.  The cutting and the edges it creates interests me.  I like the idea that my work can draw people to pick it up and want to use it.