Renowned potter returns to alma mater
Jack Troy’s work included in Smithsonian Institution’s collection
Published: May 12, 2013
TOWANDA — When he attended Towanda High School in the early 1950s, Jack Troy played on the varsity football, baseball and basketball teams.
Because he spent so much time doing athletics, he didn’t get involved in things like the arts, which is the area where he would go on to make his mark in a big way later in life.
Troy, a potter, is “world-renowned,” both for the quality of his pottery and for the books he has written on pottery and ceramics, said Towanda High School art teacher Shvonne Strickland.
Troy’s pottery is part of the collections of many museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., said Towanda High art teacher Jason Strickland.
“I was a big fan of his in college,” Jason Strickland said. “He was one of the movers and shakers in the clay movement as we knew it then.”
Troy was a trend-setter, as he was one of the first people in the United States to begin working with Japanese anagama wood-fired kilns, which have wonderful effects on the exterior of pottery, Strickland said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Troy was back at Towanda High, giving pottery demonstrations and conducting poetry workshops. His visit was funded by a grant from the Towanda Area School District Education Foundation.
In an interview on Wednesday, Troy, who taught English and pottery for many years at the college and high school level, said he didn’t have a love for academics when he was a student at Towanda High.
“I had a horrible academic record here” at Towanda High, Troy said.
“I just was bored a lot,” Troy, 75, explained. “I think a lot of people are bored a lot in school. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to get excited about learning. Being ready to learn is ,,, a mysterious thing. People don’t know about it.”
After completing the 10th grade at Towanda High, Troy moved to the Reading area, where his father had gotten a job at Metropolitan Edison.
Troy enrolled at Wyomissing High in the Reading area, which had “a lot more emphasis on academics” than Towanda High, and 33 of the 35 students in his graduating class — including Troy — went on to college, he said.
Troy enrolled in West Chester State Teachers College, where he spent the first two years as a physical education major.
While at West Chester State, he became interested in literature, theater and writing, and after his first two years there, switched his major to English.
“I got interested in literature and writing,” he says. “I always liked writing. I had been good at writing in high school. Writing and sports were the two things I enjoyed (in high school).”
After graduating from West Chester State, Troy taught English for five years at a high school in Wallingford, Pa., and it was there that an art teacher showed him how to make pottery.
“I never found a reason to stop (making pottery since then),” he said. “It was so challenging and rewarding. It has a good proportion of challenge to reward.”
Troy went on to earn a master’s degree in English from Kent State University, where he spent a lot of time in the ceramics studio, and was then hired by Juniata College to be the director of its freshman English composition program and to teach English literature.
At Juniata College, Troy started pottery classes and for five years taught both English and pottery. After five years, he gave up teaching English and taught only pottery at the college, which he continued to do for the next 33 years.
His work as a potter has brought him to 25 countries, including India, Japan and China. In most cases, he was invited to the foreign country to teach pottery, he said.
On Wednesday, in the Clay I pottery class at Towanda High, Troy talked about the history of pottery and how dating of pottery shows that humans were making pottery at least 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Early humans would have found the “magical” substance of clay near streams, and would have played with it and made simple objects out of it, such as a container to carry berries, he said.
But clay vessels at the time couldn’t hold liquid, since people didn’t know how to fire clay, he said.
Humans would have discovered the process of firing clay by accident, perhaps after lining a fire pit with clay, he said.
Archaeologists use pottery to find out about ancient cultures, he told the students.
Troy recalled, for example, visiting the site of a neolithic village in China, where the people used to bury their dead in large jars under the floors of their homes.
While that practice might seem weird to Americans, they buried them there because they wanted to stay close to the spirits of their ancestors, he said.
For them, burying the dead out in a field “would have really diminished their relationship” with their ancestors, he said.
Troy also told the students how he made the urns that hold the cremated ashes of his mother and father. Both urns are in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Towanda.
Troy told the students how he became overcome with emotion when he realized that the weight of the clay that he was using to make the urn for his mother’s ashes — eight pounds — was the same weight that he had had when he was born.
Troy says he loves to teach. And, while he graduated next-to-last in his high school class, he says he also loves to learn.
Troy calls himself “a classic case of a late bloomer.”
“It took me a long time to wake up,” he says.
Troy, who lives in Huntington, Pa., has written two books on ceramics and one book on pottery. He has also written numerous articles in ceramics and pottery magazines.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: email@example.com