Vince Pitelka — Vince Pitelka Pottery
“I have always been fascinated with tools and machines and working with my hands,” says studio potter Vince Pitelka. “I had a little shop at our house as a kid,” he remembers. Pitelka had a formative experience with clay at the age of four. A friend of his parents was a potter, and she turned him loose with clay. With no lessons, he pinch-formed two cups and saucers and a teapot. She fired the pots, and they were around the Pitelka home for years until they succumbed to one of California’s earthquakes.
Pitelka’s parents were both scientists and he expected to pursue a career in science. “I was a science major, until I was not a science major,” he quips. After two years at Merritt College in Oakland, he transferred to Humboldt State, where he abandoned the sciences and renewed his love affair with clay, graduating with a BA in Ceramics. Pitelka’s propensity for machinery led him to a job as a mechanic and welder with the City of Arcata, where he learned how to build and repair machinery and equipment. In the mid-1970s he opened his first pottery studio, Railroad Stoneware in Blue Lake, California, on the Mad River.
In 1985 Pitelka shut down his studio, and he and his wife Linda moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Vince earned his MFA in ceramics at UMass-Amherst. He taught at North Dakota State University in Fargo for three years, and in 1994 was hired to teach ceramics and run the clay studio at Tennessee Tech University’s Appalachian Center for Craft. In 2018, he and his wife retired to Chatham County and he established his studio. Pitelka’s studio reflects his professional life. It is filled with vintage machines and tools. He acknowledges that the design and craftsmanship in antique tools and machinery have had a big influence on his work.
At Railroad Stoneware, Pitelka specialized in functional kitchenware and tableware – high volume production work. “As much as I love machines, I never wanted to be one,” he muses. He now concentrates on unique hand-built ceramic works. He transforms rolled slabs of clay into a variety of vessels such as mugs and teapots. “I am fascinated with transforming a two-dimensional slab of clay into three- dimensional forms such as cones, cylinders, cubes and pyramids,” he explains. I combine these elements to create designs.” He exaggerates the seams of the connected elements to display the energy of the creative process. His work is decorated with bisque-fired clay stamps that he has made. Pitelka has a nearly fanatical obsession with meticulous craftsmanship but it is delicately balanced with creativity. “You can kill a piece of art with craftsmanship,” he smiles.
“I am especially happy when people use my work in a ceremonial sense, especially for serving food or drink to one another,” Vince notes. His pottery sells from $30 mugs to $350 for tea pots. His work is displayed on his website: www.vincepitelka.com.
He made his debut on the 2019 Chatham Studio Tour.