Steiner Believes in “Letting Clay be Clay”

Maple Crest Senior Living Village doesn’t have an official Artist in Residence, but T.R. Steiner is as close as it gets.  Maintenance supervisor for the 18-acre independent and assisted living community, Steiner credits his mechanical skills with the ability to craft prize-winning ceramic pieces.  Like painting, clearing snow and doing general repairs, working in clay is also a process.  Having an engineering mentality is a plus in this art form, according to Steiner.

“Pottery is a long, complicated journey,” he added.  “You work in stages and take care of the piece like it was your child.  It requires a lot of discipline and patience.”

Being a potter was very far from his initial career aspirations.  Steiner grew up on a farm and didn’t take art classes at Cory Rawson High School.  It was an art elective at the University of Findlay that ignited his love of working in clay and alerted him to certain skills he possessed.

“I’d always been pretty mechanical, and pottery just fit,” Steiner recalled.

The Journey

Helping on the family farm in the Pandora/Benton Ridge area, Steiner started college as an agriculture major at Ohio State University.  Transferring to the University of Findlay to major in biology, he walked into Professor Gregg Luginbuhl’s introductory ceramics class and it changed the course of his life.  He took more art classes and graduated with a double major in art and biology.

Deciding to make pottery a career, Steiner continued to work on the family farm after graduation … but he needed revenue from his artwork and his studio began looking like an assembly line.  He was catering to customers and worrying about what they thought of his pieces.  The shiny teapots and bowls began to, figuratively, lose their luster.

“I just walked away from it,” Steiner said.  “It wasn’t enjoyable anymore and my family needed a more stable income.  I sold everything and decided I would never go back to pottery.”  That prediction almost came true.

Several years later in 2014, Steiner heard that his mentor Gregg Luginbuhl was teaching his last classes at Bluffton University in preparation for retirement.  Steiner rationalized that since he had been one of Luginbuhl’s first students, he would like to attend one of the professor’s last classes as well.  It was the impetus he needed to re-kindle his love of ceramics.  He began creating pieces again, but this time on his own terms.  Luginbuhl also recommended him for the adjunct ceramics faculty position at Bluffton University and Steiner has been teaching there since 2016.

Art – Good for the Soul

Since returning to the “kiln,” Steiner has made some changes in his style and his recent pieces reflect that.

“I’m not trying to disguise the clay,” Steiner added.  “It can show lines and marks that my fingers make.  It’s clay and firing it at 2,300 degrees is like reconstituting rocks,” he laughed.  “My pottery shows the minerals of the earth.  It’s more natural.”

His style has proven popular as his work has been accepted at some prestigious shows this year.

ArtSpace Lima is featuring three works in its spring show which runs from April 19-June 1.  Steiner’s teapot titled “Argilly Bargilly” also won the Bruce Chesser Award for Ceramics.

Steiner has had four pieces accepted to the Mansfield Art Center’s 74th Annual May Show.  His teapot, “Terrestrial Fragments” received the Whitten Studios Award for Ceramics.  The Mansfield show continues through June 2.

“Ordovician’s Cultch,” a soda-fired stoneware teapot will be included in the Ohio Designer Craftsmen Best of 2019 Traveling Exhibit, running from May 5-June 28 at the Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus and from September 20-December 15 at Springfield Museum of Art.  The piece also won the Ohio Designer Craftsmen Functional Ceramics Workshop Award for Excellence.

Although Steiner hasn’t held ceramics classes at Maple Crest, he is doing a demonstration at an upcoming Men’s Banquet.  He believes that ceramics is a skill easily learned later in life and is a good creative outlet for older adults.  He noted that ceramics is used a lot in art therapy and there are special potters’ wheels for disabled individuals.

As Maintenance Coordinator, Steiner jokingly refers to himself as the “Department of Last Resort,” adding that residents and staff will inevitably say, “Call Maintenance,” when there is a seemingly unsolvable problem.  His engineering mind is valuable for a working supervisor of buildings and grounds.  Maple Crest includes 54 apartments, 16 duplex villas, a swimming pool, two ponds, dining areas, a fitness room and a hair salon.  The complexity of working in clay has given him a perspective on other complex projects.  He feels art is just as valuable for his students.

“Ceramics is fraught with danger,” he emphasized.  “One mistake and you can lose weeks of work. But it gives younger students problem-solving skills, flexibility and helps them think on their feet as well as developing creative thought.  I hope they always keep art in their lives in some fashion.”

What Now?

Steiner is looking forward to teaching “Summer Mud” at Bluffton University in a few weeks.  Since the workshop is usually comprised of adult learners, he’s excited to be working with non-traditional students.  He also admits there are some things on his arts bucket list, like traveling to pottery centers in Japan and Korea.  He’d also like to have a one-man show at some point.

“Maybe it’s the influence of our local universities, but this area is blessed with some really good potters.  I love working with the artists at Bluffton University and potters with Ohio Northern, Bowling Green State University and University of Findlay ties. It makes you better and the work is enjoyable.”

And the enjoyment is the most important part!

For more information on T.R. Steiner, visit his website at