The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

April 18, 2012

Throwing pots and smashing perceptions

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — To look at John Hill, one might think he is the kind of man who spends the majority of his time astride a Harley, playing pool with his buddies or firing up the grill after taking a swig of his favorite beer.

That is an assumption that Hill is smashing to pieces, however, as he is a stay-at-home dad who enjoys being there for his kids, throwing pots in his home pottery studio and attending the numerous after-school activities in which his children are involved.

Hill just recently finished building his own pottery studio next door to the home he shares with his wife, Sonya, and their three children Martha, John Riley and Silas.

Hill first became interested in pottery by chance some five years ago, after graduating from Texas A&M University-Commerce with a bachelor’s degree in social work and counseling. He’s been working at the Morris Recreation Center as a student worker and got the opportunity to work with the Outdoor Adventure Program at A&M-C, eventually leading to a director position.

“I like to take opportunities when they come up because you never know what will come out of it,” said Hill. “I had a great time there, enjoyed the university environment and the people I got to work with.”

The paper pushing was the part of the director job that he liked the least. That opportunity led to yet another one that Hill is extremely grateful for, as it helps him get those creative juices flowing.

“A couple of my student workers were ceramics majors and they took me to the ceramics lab and I just never went back,” laughed Hill, who took five semesters with Barbara Frey to help him understand the basics. “Now I’m a full-time dad and part-time potter. I’ve never been one to be resistant to change and if I see an opportunity, I go for it and this one has really worked out well for me. Me staying at home with the kids is something my wife and I talked about before we had kids.”“I don’t really consider myself an artist,” said Hill. “I think part of that is because I don’t really understand what an artist is. I think being an artist is more a mindset. One of the things I like to say is that everyone makes mistakes and artists know when to keep those mistakes.”

Hill works by feel and look, a more intuitive interaction with his medium, rather than theoretically based.

“The people that seem to be more theoretically based are those that have formal art education, which I don’t have,” said Hill. “I see lots of value in that, but I don’t have that information and to some extent I’ve resisted getting that information because I’m exploring what it is I can do by just having visual impactual exposure rather than the theory behind what makes art.”

Hill’s work has mainly been in functional pieces, though he his starting to branch out into sculpture.

“I primarily have done functional pieces because those are the things we interact with on a daily basis,” said Hill. “Nothing makes me happier to hear that someone has something that’s hand-made and they responded to it so strongly that they had to have it. That it fits just right and becomes part of their everyday experience.”

One of the examples Hill gives is the coffee cup.

“It’s an integral part of their daily experience,” he said. “You’re not paying me $35 for a coffee mug, you’re paying $35 for this thing that makes your experience of your day-to-day life hopefully more rich.”

When Hill sits down in his studio, with music playing lightly in the background, he may or may not have an idea of what he’s forming, or throwing as is the potter term, in his hands as he’s doing it.

“In some cases, like when I’m doing commission work, I do have a desire, but I don’t necessary let that limit what happens when I sit down to work,” he said. “Sometimes when I sit down to throw, I can’t throw certain things. Can’t is a strong word, though, ’cause sometimes I can push through it, but it’s not as satisfying doing it that way. I don’t really like to force things.”

Hill works in clay and has recently been on a vertical kick, making vases and more vertical style pots.

“I have to sell pots to keep making pots, though,” he said. “That’s just a fact of life, so when I’m throwing or glazing the pots, I keep that in mind. For example, red glazed pots are big sellers, even though they’re far from my favorite.”

When Hill is away from his studio his hands itch to be covered in clay and his mind misses his favorite creative outlet. Basically, he experiences what he’s termed “creative constipation.”

“You almost get this feeling of being psychically, physically and emotionally clogged up,” he said. “When it’s a big part of your life, it starts interfering with the other parts of your life if you’re away too long.”

When Hill can’t get to his studio he uses his sketch book to release those creative vibes.

“I’m not really good at it, but it serves a purpose,” he said. “Photography is another outlet for me that allows me to record thoughts, similar to my sketch books, which I write in as well as sketch.”

According to Hill, it’s nice to think about your day-to-day experiences as a creative endeavor.

“Whether or not other people interact with my stuff in that way is beside the point for me,” he said. “For me its a necessity for that creative outlet.”

For more information or to view Hill’s work visit or check him out on Facebook or Etsy.