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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual

Kentuckians in Visual Arts

Potter Joe Molinaro
Richmond, Kentucky

Joe Molinaro

Who As a child, Joe Molinaro was interested in and amused by strange objects, taking things apart, and collecting. He didn’t focus on art in high school, planning initially to major in special education in college. He changed his mind after a chance encounter with a Notre Dame graduate who described to him how much he had enjoyed pottery classes while in college. Halfway through his junior year at Ball State University, Molinaro visited the art department’s ceramics studio and began learning all he could about the equipment and pottery-making techniques while working after hours with students and faculty. He changed majors to pursue an art degree and, after graduating, entered Southern Illinois University at Carbondale’s MFA program to begin work as a ceramic artist. After graduate school, Molinaro moved his family to England, following another childhood interest—travel—and to work at a crafts gallery in London. His first job as an art teacher was in Florida, where he had access to a rich international community of art and culture. While spending Christmas vacation in South America, he visited Ecuador. Some unique pottery he saw in a hardware store there piqued his interest in the pottery-making traditions of the region. In 1991, he received a position teaching at Eastern Kentucky University and became a member of the Kentucky/Ecuador Partnership, a program connecting EKU faculty and students with colleges and universities in that South American country. Soon after that, he was offered the chance to exhibit some of his work in Ecuador and received a travel grant to lecture there. Impressed with his lectures, one school requested that he return to Ecuador to teach during the summer. On the weekends, he began exploring the Amazon basin, on the lookout for examples of the region’s traditional pottery. He has returned to Ecuador regularly through Fulbright grants and other academic resources and has used this experience and his own work as an artist to develop a multi-faceted career as a potter, art teacher, travel writer, and cultural enthusiast.

What “I divide my time among teaching, working in the studio and managing my exhibition schedule, and traveling. I write and research articles on art and culture, attend NCECA [National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts] and other conferences, and I spend a great deal of time applying for grants and preparing trips to the Amazon.”

When “I don’t really have a typical day in terms of hours, except for my teaching schedule. I would rather have too much going on and deal with the struggle than not have enough to do and be bored. I try to fill my day balancing all of my interests. I usually spend the summer traveling.”


How “Balancing my work as an artist and an educator, it’s difficult to find the time for my own work, but I always try to maintain activity as a working artist by setting yearly production goals and maintaining gallery exhibition schedules. In my cultural research, the biggest challenges are usually cost-related. To fly into the jungle, a 40-minute flight usually costs more than the flight from the USA, so you can imagine the logistics of getting to the Amazon. I receive most of my support from grants and use this to hire guides, purchase supplies, and charter planes and canoes for excursions. I am on the Board of Directors for NCECA and serve as their conference planner. I also have to find a good balance for dedicating time to students who are working toward their BFA in ceramics. As an adviser, I try to use my experience as a model of how to work as a professional artist.”

Why “Working as an artist is about learning the differences between yourself and others. When a potter puts together a design, it’s always going to be a kind of abstraction of what they see and do every day. Learning from the cultural traditions of others makes this process a much more humble method of seeing yourself and your own experience as it is connected to the world. I want to tell students, ‘Here’s a worldview possessing a completely different value system. Now build your own perspective to encounter and include this new system of value.’ It’s a perspective-building exercise.”

Getting There “If you love doing something, then that should be license enough to keep on doing it. Eventually, someone will see it; help guide, nurture, and support it. This isn’t just about classes. You have to look inside yourself for that inspirational light and keep following it in whatever direction it takes you. Everybody deserves at least one passion, but not everyone takes the chances they have to seize it, follow it, and let it mature into something real. Those who do will watch their passions replicate and multiply. Students deserve passionate, hard-working professors. If I say my problem is not enough time in the studio, then I have to counter that by saying my other productive passions are being satisfied during that time, which actually makes it a really good problem to have. And at the end of the day, you can’t take everything so seriously. It’s important to have few expectations that others will find direct connections to your work. As my classes are often required for the art department, I just hope that something concerning how an artist works is carried over to the students. But you have to stir that passion in others by showing some of it in the classroom, because students can actually extract something of their teacher’s passion. My classes aren’t so much about facts and figures as they are about that general excitement. Passion is contagious like that, and it should be encouraged.”

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