Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Francesca Spizzo
Shelbyville artist, Tony Treadway, sees his pottery as a way to promote tourism, education, and history in his small town.
What started as a means of physical therapy ended up being a lifelong passion. At 13, Treadway took up pottery upon the doctor’s request after injuring his hand in football. The “hobby of sorts” then stayed long after Treadway’s hand fully recovered.
Treadway went to University of Evansville for his pottery training, noting that it was intense work but overall rewarding. He appreciated the techniques taught, saying that, “sometimes you would have 25 styles per semester”. He kept with it, and roughly two and a half years ago he started his own shop/gallery on Shelbyville’s main street.
Shelbyville’s economy benefits greatly from tourism. Treadway tries to promote tourism in the area by making custom orders with superb craftsmanship. Treadway says, “form follows function” in that, while his pottery is very operational, it does have very beautiful artistic elements. He states, “I want the pieces to be affordable…and have people be able to have art in their house”.
All of his pieces are neatly crafted with varying degrees of artistic flare and detailing. Treadway makes teapots, cups, vases, and more. His personal contemporary pieces are often shown in galleries over the country. He says that, “the pieces that are truly mine reflect on my personality and life”.
Educating others in the art of pottery is also another of Treadway’s talents. He teaches many classes on pottery, noting that, “I’ve once had a class of 300, brought in by shifts of 30”. Treadway thinks that teaching the youth about art is extremely important. He wants to expose children to this art form. Treadway states that we’re “building for the future through the arts” when kids become interested in art, design and building. The only problem his students ever seem to have with the art form is its lengthy process. He says, “the process is frustrating, it takes time”. Treadway describes what it’s like opening the kiln after all that time, especially after making a risky decision; he states, “it’s either like Halloween (in which case I smash the piece), or like Christmas morning”.
Treadway has even worked with autistic children, noting their ability to catch on more quickly and naturally than others; he says, “the wheel works with them”. Treadway also has a network with other artists. Some are local, others are from as far away as Africa or Ireland. They all connect and discuss artwork and its educational, historic, and business aspects. He notes that, “a drawback in our education’s art aspect is that… they don’t teach you any of the business aspect”.
For Treadway, art and history go hand in hand. He became interested in history long ago, even delving into the world of archaeology. He thinks that teaching others about art eventually leads to teaching about history. The history of pottery however, is easier to find than bones in the ground. Treadway learned many different art styles and techniques in his time at university, most notably the European and Oriental design. While a majority of his own pieces are more contemporary in style, he thinks it’s important for others to know the history of pottery. He states that this art form, “[is] rich in culture and background…it definitely has this history”. Treadway is especially interested in the pottery of the pre-Columbians and their early style of ceramic making. He thinks that pottery helps tell the story of their lives and survival. It helps show the transition from a group of people surviving to a group of people thriving.
Treadway started his business from the ground up. He learned many mistakes through trial and error, and has grown because of them. He teaches his art and expands upon others the knowledge and history that can be gleaned from it. While there have been some naysayers, people who question his reasoning for even going into this business, he stays strong. Treadway gives back to the community he loves, and loves doing it.