Ceramics Instructor & Artist: Tom Lollar

| December 18, 2013

A glazed ceramic piece from Tom Lollar’s Gallery 61 exhibition titled “Forma Urbis Romae II.”

Traveling through historic sites, have you ever looked past the rubble to imagine the grand temple or fortress which once stood there? Tom Lollar, Art & Art Education Instructor of TC courses in ceramics, sculpture and drawing, is captivated by what was and what has since come to be in his physical surroundings. Every artist is attracted to recurring themes in life, and as Tom explains, in working with ceramics “he has always been very interested in ruins; how what has been destroyed exists next to what is presently there.”

One of Tom’s most recent exhibitions was held in Gallery 61 at the New York Institute of Technology. Inspired by the 3rd century Severan marble plan of Rome, Tom’s exhibition predominately featured clay and marble fragments inspired by the plan’s remains. Originally installed on an interior wall of the Templum Pacis, the Severan received serious damage during a 9th century earthquake: only 10-15% of the stone structure survived. Tom’s exhibition honors the Severan remnants by attempting to capture their authentic 3rd century appearance. As a result of the glazing process, for instance, some of the stoneware ceramics have the appearance of bronze etching plates. To complement his map collection, Tom’s Gallery 61 exhibition also featured a turquoise stoneware series, clay post cards, and mega coins sporting welded edges for an authentic texture. Tom notes that he has always had an affinity for maps, but emphasizes that his work is always inspired by, and never an imitation of, the tangible pieces that pique his interest.

A “Stoneware Map of Rome.” Several of Tom’s fragments were glazed to give them a bronzed veneer.

In addition to his work as an artist and instructor Tom is also an active researcher. His time as a visiting artistic scholar in 2005 at the American Academy in Rome was Tom’s first introduction to the Severan remains. In reminiscing on his time in Rome, Tom fondly remarked that “[research scholar positions] give you a special opportunity to spend all of your time pursuing your interests without all of the burdens of daily life.” The epitome of an art scholar’s fantasies, the American Academy provided him with a studio and access to restricted research resources such as the Vatican Library! His research culminated in an exhibition at the Academy before his return to Teachers College.

As an instructor, Tom feels it pivotal to encourage cross-over projects amongst art studio disciplines. In prompting mixed-media collaboration he is an advocate of experimentation and even allows students to contribute to his ceramic sculpture projects. When making ceramic sculptures, such as those for his Gallery 61 map fragments, Tom says he “invites students to create a period of history around the map and then destroy part of [the fictitious topographical history] if they choose.” This destruction involves the bombing of the sculptures with small projectiles to give the appearance of craters on sidewalks and streets. True to his theme of juxtaposing destroyed pieces of history with the present, Tom likes his current art to contain ruins of their own, an emblem of cultural continuity.

A close-up of Tom’s ceramic mural on display in the lobby of Whittier Hall at Teachers College. The installation, commissioned by Dr. Burton, is Tom’s interpretation of the campus map.

Ceramic sculpture as a medium in our current artistic climate has a very international presence. In the past ten years, Tom has travelled to Seoul and Tapei to give lectures, attend museum openings, and create original murals. Faithful to Teachers College, however, Tom has also completed commissions currently installed around campus. He was most recently commissioned by Dr. Judith Burton, head of TC’s Art & Art Education department, to create the ceramic college mural that greets students in Whittier Hall. “The best commissions,” Tom muses, “occur when the commissioner gives you artistic license to let you make whatever you wish.” Freedom for imaginative interpretation is the most essential starting point for unfettered creation in ceramics and all creative media.

By Alyssa Foster

Arts & Humanities Staff Writer


– To view more of Tom Lollar’s collections, please visit his personal website at tomlollar.com.

– The Severan map of Rome is also known as the Forma Urbis Romae (FUR), the Pianta Marmorea (PM), and the Forma Urbis Marmorea (FUM).