The Story of Pete Pinnell

As the Community Arts Apprentice at the Clay Art Center I’ve had a lot of opportunities for education and advancement in my teaching skills.  One of those recent opportunities was being the technical assistant for Pete Pinnell’s two-day workshop focusing on making and altering teapots.


At the end of this weekend I felt (and still feel!) very invigorated to keep working hard and studying harder.  Sometimes these things can be hard to maintain in a personal studio, especially when you have multiple outside jobs and considerations jockeying for attention. But it was really Pete’s lecturing style that have spurred me onwards.  It reminded me how much, in undergrad, I wanted to soak up my professors’ little drops of knowledge, be it life experience or studio practice.  Pete’s approach to lecturing is so natural and overflowing with amazing nuggets of life and clay experience; I would love to sit in a whole semester of his lectures because I can only imagine the worlds of opportunity they would open me to.

Aside from being the Great Glaze Master, Pete Pinnell is a dedicated educator at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska, having only recently ended his term as Department Chair.  I haven’t majorly considered going back to school for an MFA, especially not to Nebraska, but I realized during the workshop weekend how much I miss the kind of information and critical thinking that Professors can present their students with.  And UNL has suddenly become a prospect if only to learn more under Pete’s tutelage.  Pete is soft-spoken but I did not get the impression that he does a lot of ego-fluffing.  His knowledge truly seem boundless in history, clay and technology.

Ewer, Pete Pinnell.  Photograph from:

Pete started with a slideshow telling us not only about the history of his work but his personal history, and even the history of the pots he draws inspiration from!  Being able to think critically about where your forms originate from is very interesting.  I would consider it akin to developing self-awareness; it’s difficult to begin seeing yourself critically but it is immensely important to personal growth.  Thinking of your work critically opens you up to all sorts of historical aspects of your pot you may never have realized before.  And (let’s face it) there is nothing new under the sun.  As Pete said, “Don’t borrow something, STEAL it!”  Borrowing is too timid.  You’ve got to take what you’ve borrowed and run with it.  Twist and twerk the idea until IT fits YOUR work, not the other way around.

Aside from telling us how to be grand thieves, Pete also showed us how he works.  The ideas he chose to share were very applicable to the holes in my own knowledge, such as throwing off the hump (and successfully cutting off!), squaring off forms, throwing in parts and teapot lids.

There were also true gems of information, such as drying your pots in the microwave!  (Be sure to use the DEFROST setting, though)  I love the idea of making and altering your tools to your preferences and needs.  It can be hard to remember that’s an option when there are so many tools for almost every need.  Pete is a man that makes so many things that he needs, it reminds me I can be as crafty with my tools as I am with my clay.  Just need to get our studio manager to show me how to use the power tools before I loose a digit…

If you’d like to see some clips from Pete’s workshop feel free to check out my Facebook page where I’ve uploaded a few of them.  And if you ever get a chance to attend a Pete Pinnell workshop I highly recommend it!

Pete Pinnell, Teapot. Image from:

You can read some of Pete’s articles from the Clay Times online at their  website.


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