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John Neely, Potter

John Neely has been building ceramic pots for almost 50 years. In high school, he didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life but he did know he liked making pots. When he was 19 years old, he traveled to Japan where he fell in love with the pottery pieces he saw there. He says that learning the Japanese language was key to his experience in Japan.

“It took me a long time to start to understand what was going on and learning Japanese made all the difference. The way I explain it is this – It is very much like looking through a camera lens where everything is out of focus. When you slowly bring it into focus you start to understand what it is that is on the other side of the camera. That’s how it was when I learned to read and especially write Japanese….ALL the clues were suddenly there and I could understand what was going on and I found it all fascinating!”

He is particularly well known for designing an efficient wood-fired kiln named the “train-kiln” (it’s shape resembles that of a train). This kiln is widely utilized by potters worldwide and is the result of John's curiosity and research into primitive kiln design.

“I am fascinated with the history of ceramics - rather, by the history of technology. Much of what we know about early technology is because ceramic objects remain. They survived in all kinds of conditions. Fiber disappears, wood doesn’t last, metal corrodes….but we’ve got lots of ceramic stuff to learn from”.

Neely's ceramics program at Utah State University (Logan, Utah) is highly competitive and attracts students from diverse backgrounds and from all over the world. His program has an intensive series of ceramic technology courses that covers kiln building, glaze formulation and making, and tool building. “I think [the technical focus of the program] is part of what has given our students the strength to do what they want to do.”

John Neely’s remarkable influence on the landscape of ceramic art cannot be overestimated.


Utah State University - College of Art + Design (Ceramics)

Production Team

Jenny Mauro (Producer/Editor), Ashley Swanson (Editor), John Rogers (Videographer), and Brenton Winegar (Audio Engineer).

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