Tony Treadway keeps an old theory on clay in his mind as he works — hand-thrown pottery pieces should be affordable to everyone.
“I’ve always taken that to heart,” says the New Harmony, Indiana, resident.
Treadway started throwing clay in 1979, after a football injury in high school damaged his hand. After 18 weeks in a cast, his doctor told him he had two choices — learn to throw pots or play the piano.
“I looked at him and said, ‘There’s no way I’m playing a piano,’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ll introduce you to a potter,’” says Treadway with a laugh.
From there, his passion for pottery and the arts flourished. The Robinson, Illinois, native would attend and graduate from the University of Evansville with a bachelor’s degree in ceramics and a minor in printmaking, and from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, with a master’s in ceramics and sculpture.
Through his undergraduate years at UE, he became familiar with New Harmony and its artistic culture — first in 1984 working on a photography project then again in 1985 and ‘86 as a ceramics student intern at the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Potter’s House studio.
After being away from the small arts community for 30 years, the Illinois native and his wife Christy moved to New Harmony in 2015 to essentially pick up where he left off.
“For me, coming back here is repaying the kindness that Mrs. Jane Blaffer Owens showed me in those days when I was here as a student from UE,” says Treadway.
Today, along with his thriving ceramic art, which he displays and sells under the name Treadway Clay, Tony throws clay in his backyard studio; runs the 609 Gallery; serves on the Arts in Harmonie and Christmas in Harmonie boards; is vice president of the business association; and lives as most artists in New Harmony do — sharing his craft and prompting the creative minds of the small town.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Inspiration, for me, goes back to the river. Everything goes back to the Wabash River for me. My family tradition runs back four generations on the river. There’s an association to this kind of river community lifestyle for me that works.
Is there a specific type of piece that you enjoy making the most?
I enjoy doing platters. One of the reasons is it gives you a surface to really be expressive on. The jar forms are always fun and I love making teapots, but I don’t do it as often as I used to.
Teapots are unique; they are multiple pieces that are assembled together. It’s always fun, and it’s always a challenge. Platters are not what I consider a challenge, but the use of the surface of the platter is where the fun comes from. The same thing goes for the low, shallow bowl forms. I can really play with those — you can carve, you can paint, there’s all types of things. Then you can just let the glaze do some wonderful things as well.
How do you sign your pieces?
Well, I have an arched T, which is homage to my mother. (Treadway’s mother was one of the first women to graduate from University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, with a degree in mathematics.) The arched T is very much like the Pi symbol for mathematics.
For dating, mine always has a month and a year on it and, since I’ve moved here, every one of them has New Harmony on the bottom of it — either NH with Indiana, or New Harmony, Indiana, completely written on the bottom. Part of that is because I’ve worked in three different cities that are within 150 miles of each other.
So by looking at the bottom, I know what series a piece is coming from and where it was developed.
Have you worked with any other mediums?
Yeah, I paint, I draw. I spend a lot of time on design theory. But the potter’s wheel always just was the one thing I felt most comfortable with. And part of it is because I think it is the history buff in me. For me, the work is all a connection to history.
When you think about it, as I sit down and throw clay, outside of the electricity running the wheel, this is the same way they were doing this 8,000 years ago. This is basically, outside of beating two rocks together, one of the oldest art forms there is.
What brought you back to New Harmony, Indiana?
It’s a funny story. My wife Christy and I brought work down to the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art in 2015 — we were living in Shelbyville, Illinois, at the time, and she worked as an advocate coordinator in the state attorney’s office. She had never visited here before.
Christy really got hooked on the community. We came back for a second trip and she said she felt so at home here. But I recognized that some of the vitality was gone and I really started to think about what it would be like to be back here.
After a weekend trip down here, she called me from work on a Tuesday in June and said, “Call a Realtor and have them start looking for a house down there. We’re moving to New Harmony.” On Oct. 15, we moved into this house.
I’m a devoted disciple of the Jane Blaffer Owen school of thought. She had a strong belief that the arts were a part of this community, — they are. The history, the archeology, and there’s all these things here that I truly love.
For more information on Tony Treadway, visit theartisansgalleria.com.