Tom Marsh: Potter (Life and Death)

Tom Marsh was an interesting man. tommarsh1  He died two years after my dad, in 1991. At that time he  was renowned in the art world as a skilled potter.  I knew him in a different way. He was a good friend of my dad.  He taught art at Silver Creek High school back in the sixties and my dad taught Biology. They were about the same age and had a lot in common. Both young men with families and similar interests. Tom’s father was a minister.  He had been the pastor for the Sellersburg Church of Christ.  (I believe his name was Howard Marsh but I could be wrong on that).  Like many a minister’s child, Tom rebelled against the whole church thing.  Even as a child I knew he had a lousy relationship with his father.  Volatile. Negative.  He was married to Patricia (Pat) and they had three great children, Amy (who was my age)  Beth and Dan.  Dan was a clever and unusual boy.  Just to give you and idea,  Dan once caught a wild bird by waiting patiently for it. I have never known another child or person who had that sort of patience and stillness available as a personal resource but he did!  Amy was my first ‘girlfriend’ back in 3rd grade at Sellersburg Elementary and our families socialized quite frequently back in the mid to late 1960’s. There was spaghetti dinners, cookouts and fun times for kids.  The Marsh family lived in a ‘scary house’ which was located at the bottom of the hill where the Junior high was located. The tale told was that the previous owner, an old woman, had been murdered and thrown down the steps to the basement. So, as children, we ‘visited this spot’  looking for ‘blood stains’.

 

Tom always liked the finer things. He lived beyond his means buying an expensive hi-fi stereo, a sailboat and a brand new cougar sports car (which I thought was the coolest thing ever).  That was hard on his family.  I sometimes discussed Tom with my father.  His view was that Tom was a brilliant and gifted man with a big ego and somewhat self destructive.  But, they remained good friends.  I loved Amy, Beth and Dan and loved it when their family visited ours or vice versa.

Then,  sometime around 1970,  things changed.  I believe Tom had gone away on a seminar or some training session involving pottery and met a young and beautiful woman,  Ginny.   There was an affair.  I will never forget how my parents tried to explain it to me prior to a visit by Pat and the kids one day.  I didn’t get it.  But when they came over and I saw Amy Beth and Dan…and the pain in their eyes…I got it.  After that,  I formed a harsh opinion of Tom Marsh. I didn’t understand how a man could do that to his children.

I will never forget it.

Later, things evened out.  We saw less of Pat and the kids after that.  I don’t know exactly where they went but they were less and less in our lives.  I missed Amy.  She was a beautiful red haired girl with pale skin, big brown-green eyes and quiet intelligence.  And..I recall she could be funny.

We saw perhaps less of Tom. He was starting a new life with Ginny.  Here they are on the cover of “Ceramics Monthly”.

tommarshBut from time to time,  Tom would come by to see my dad. But it wasn’t really the same anymore.

The last time he came by it was the summer of, perhaps, 1974. He was driving a tractor and had come in to help move something or do some farm-like chore.

 

Several years passed by.  Tom and Ginny established a beautiful and very cool house Tom built mostly by hand up off of Highway 60 on the way to Borden Indiana.  I went out there a couple of times with my dad and was impressed by Tom’s solution for using a one or two room Japanese inspired cabin for multiple living purposes. He had designed a pulley system to raise his bed during the day and lower it at night. It was ingenius,  looked good and also…looked fun!  They had a studio and barns there.  They continued to make good work and it was a very ‘artsy’ place.  Tom and Ginny used a large pot as a road marker to let those ‘in the know’ know which gravel road was the turn off to their secret place. Years on,  Ginny put the house up for sale and my brother tried to buy it. It’s a great place. Another friend of mine wound up buying it and using it as a ‘retreat’.  When my brother and I looked at it we discovered Tom had installed another ingenious device. Under the floor in the main room was a well concealed safe.

The Marshes, and their history then fell out of my life for several years. Over a decade in fact.   Until in the mid-80’s, I began seeing the woman who is now my wife.  She was finishing up an undergraduate degree in fine art and so was in the same program that Tom (and sometimes Ginny) taught in at the University of Louisville.   She was not in ceramics though (the ceramics studios were in a completely seperate building from the painting and drawing program) and so I only ‘bumped into’ Tom Marsh a couple of times at larger university art events.  Later, however,  after my wife earned her MFA at the University of Cincinnati, she was hired as a part time adjunct professor and was teaching there at U of L just before Tom died, in 1991.

Before that,  I sometimes saw Beth,  the middle child who was a dead on match for her mother (except for her red hair which she had from Tom) and was a lovely pleasant woman with a great soft laugh. She worked for a time at the Bristol bar and Grille and I learned from her that Amy was living in Colorado and married.

My dad died in 1989 and I recall that Pat was sympathetic and consoled my mother at that time.  She had never remarried.  Somewhere,  mixed up in all these memories is one of seeing Tom at a wedding in Kentucky where he gave a small, charming toast to the couple (that I can’t for the life of me remember now!) and his most unusual gift to them…an ax for wood chopping!  This gift inspired me so that later,  when a good friend of mine married  I gave her and her husband a very good garden shovel.  Years later Cathy, the bride, told me that at the time she thought it was the ‘weirdest wedding gift’ but that, in the following years….it had turned out to be the most handy and useful wedding gift they’d received.

It was in this time, in the late 1980’s,  my friend Keven traveled back to Japan where he had studied in the early 80’s to try and make a life near his future wife’s home in Fujinomiya.  During this time he worked as a potter’ assistant on a ‘dragon kiln’.  He told me what he could about this ancient Japanese art and how the dragon kiln was heated so hot that when firelogs  where thrown in over the curing pottery,  they vaporized before they fell on the pots.  My friend had grown up in the Sellersburg Church of Christ and it always seemed like one of life’s mysterious ‘connections’ that he found himself as an assistant to a great japanese potter.  Tom, son of the pastor of that church,  had likewise,  gone to Japan in the early 60’s to study under a great japanese potter.  Yet, Keven and Tom had no connection.   I still don’t know of it being anything other than an odd coincidence, but I doubt there are many small towns in the USA with such odd connections to Japanese pottery tradition.

In 1991, we were alarmed to hear that Tom was ‘missing’.   Ginny called my mother to ask if she had heard from Tom.  Of course she hadn’t.  It had been a couple of days.  Son Dan, came in to town to help out and went roving in the woods behind Tom and Ginny’s place.  He found him there–in the woods.  I have always thought it must have been a terrible shock, but somehow fitting that Dan found him there, in nature.

My wife and I attended the funeral ceremony for Tom…held in Louisville in a distinctly Japanese influenced Zen Buddhist ceremony.  It was the only time I have seen Amy in perhaps 40 years.  The ceremony was peaceful,  a bit eerie and mystical and, just a bit….showy.  I believe Tom would have loved it.

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UPDATE:  Here is a comment by my sister, who is six years younger than me. It tells a little bit more about Tom and my dad.

I really enjoyed reading this. With our age difference, I don’t remember spending time with Tom and Pat family group…I only have memories of after they split. A few times when I went with mother to visit Pat. A few times when Mother & Daddy went out with Tom & Ginny; a couple times when I went to Tom & Ginny’s to babysit for Ben. I have a special place in my heart for Tom because after Daddy’s heart attack(s), surgery, recovery…when he came home from the hospital, he was lonely I think. I mean he had us but I think he missed his friends. A few dropped by for very brief moments but Tom, Tom came and sat and just talked with Daddy like no time had passed and nothing was different, just two friends spending time together. He didn’t look at Daddy with “that look” (fear, nerves, whatever’s behind that look). After those visits, Daddy would be very uplifted, more like his former self. I cannot put into words how much that meant to me.-Stacy Mosley Ethington

UPDATE 1-7-17**********************************************************

I thought I would update the article with some interesting comments various people made when I posted a link to the article on Facebook.

Julia Jenkins Masterson I really enjoyed reading this…Interesting man who obviously made an impact on several fronts…Everyone needs a few people like Tom in their lives.

Judy Teaford Trinkle I really enjoyed reading this. It brings back memories of Tom. He was so intelligent, so
defiant, talented and weird all wrapped up into one person. I still have a piece of pottery he made. You weren’t very old, glad you can remember all of this. (Judy’s husband was a teacher and coach at Silver Creek and a friend and peer of Tom and my dad-Goliath)

T. Dan Marsh Hi David – very nice of you to write this about my father. Remarkable how many of the details are corect! He was a person with many skills that were admirable. There was also a side that was not admirable. Wendell Berry wrote a passage once that reminded me of dad I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this “people have one foot in heaven and one foot in hell at all times” Pretty much sums it up!

Beth Marsh Bauer David. It’s remarkable how much you recall about Dad and our story. I have to admit, I was completely floored to see Dad’s face peering at me from facebook. I can just imagine the choice words he would have about this media source. Thanks for sharing your memories. Dan and Wendell got it spot on, a very conflicted man, leaving behind somewhat conflicted offspring.

Beth ‘shared ” the post and there was this interesting exchange:

Pamela Korte Beth, thanks for sharing this. I have this photo pinned to the bulletin board next to my potters wheel. Whatever his flaws as a man, Tom was an inspiring educator and artist. I owe my belief in myself as an artist to working with he and Ginny at U of L.

Beth Marsh Bauer Yes. We are all a mix of admirable and despicable traits. Sometimes hard to reconcile the two, but necessary to try. Especially when the person is your Dad.
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Here are a couple of links of interest

Letters

Book

Potter’s Mark(s)

33 Comments

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