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 for “Tom Marsh: Potter (Life and Death)

  1. Dan Marsh
    November 29, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Very nice of you to write this David! It brought back many memories of your family and our time together as children. Hope all is well with you and yours!

  2. Amy Ritger
    November 29, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Hi David, thank you for sharing your perspective about dad and our family. Your article was fascinating to read. If you ever come to Boulder, Colorado you must come by. Or, next time we visit sellersburg, I’ll look you up. I would love to reminisce and meet your wife. Amy Ritger

    • November 29, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Amy, I am so glad to hear from you. I’ve been through Boulder a few times over the years. Friends in Denver. Great to hear from you.

  3. Amy Sturgis
    December 16, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    The year was 2009, we bought a “house” in Borden. I use the word “house” lightly, as Xanadu (as my family and I refer to the property) has been so very much more than a mere house.
    Our youngest and only child, still living with us back then, was graduating from Christian Academy and preparing to study architecture at Ball State. It was during that time when we first stepped foot on the property. The term “empty nesters” suddenly became an unwelcome guest, a foreign state of being. John and I both had children from our first marriages when we met. Our youngest was preparing to fly the coop. As a couple we had never been childless. The purchase of the Marsh property initially provided a distraction to the emptiness we were both feeling.
    More to follow..

  4. Amy Sturgis
    December 16, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Our purchase of the property followed no less than 10 showings. We wore our realtor out.
    Ginny, owner at the time was living out of state. The listing agent was not nearly as interested in selling as we were in buying. The property had been vacant for a time, and before that had been inhabited by renters. It needed love and repairs.
    My first born established contact, and a connection with Ginny (I still am amazed at the sleuth detective work in tracking Ginny down)!
    More to follow…

  5. Amy Sturgis
    December 16, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Phone numbers were exchanged and conversations between Ginny, John and I ensued. Our shared enthusiasm for the property made communication easy.
    One early evening, following a rain storm John and I visited the property. We wanted to observe water flow, drainage, etc… A lovely piece of yard art at the Marsh house had fallen over during the storm. We learned later that it had been a gift to the Marsh family from a U of L student. Together John and I were able to lift the piece of art, and secured it in an upright position. When Ginny heard of our Goliath like feat of strength she said that we belonged there.
    More to follow…

  6. Amy Sturgis
    December 16, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Back then I was (and still am) an HGTV junkie. We bought the property, joy, joy, joy! The day of closing fell on our wedding anniversary (I know, it’s poetic). The weather that day of closing was so violent we reluctantly decided not to venture out to our newly acquired haven. It would have to wait.

  7. Amy Sturgis
    December 16, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Early, early, as daylight first broke John and I were there. It was the day following closing. Turning onto the gravel drive we were reveling in the reality of our purchase, giddy with excitement. And then the most majestic owl came into our view. She was perched on an old fence post just past the creek and a couple hundred yards from the house. We stopped the car, paralyzed by the sheer sight of that owl. How long we sat and stared at that bird I cannot say. It was a long time. I have not seen her or any other living owl since at Xanadu.
    Jumping forward years later a storm took down most of a tree not far from that owls fence post perch. The limbs that fell to the ground served us as firewood. The trunk, remains of that tree anchored to the earth, standing tall and proud were commissioned to be carved. The tree trunk became an owl by the hands of a chainsaw artist from Nashville, Indiana .

  8. Amy Sturgis
    December 16, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    More to follow.

  9. December 17, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Thanks for sharing your story Amy! I wondered when you would ‘appear’. – Love, Goliath.

  10. Amy Sturgis
    December 19, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I would like to believe that is what any new home owner would do. Forward, or call if as new home owner you received important mail or packages intended for the previous homeowners.

  11. Amy Sturgis
    December 19, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Back to the topic – Wendell Berry wrote a lovely short story about the Marsh property in his book The Gift of Good Land. He had the opportunity to visit the homestead when Tom and Ginny were living off the land… living off the grid…self sufficient. It is an interesting account of what the couple had achieved. Pigs, chickens, cows, wheat, vegetables, fruit, self sustainable living. When we bought the property all livestock was gone, and the only remnant of sustainable living were a few blueberry bushes, pear trees and walnut trees. None produced anything that I would like to taste for a fourth time. (I believe I was patient after 4 years). We tore down pig pens, as the local kids discovered that they were a pretty good shelter for shenanigans. John was absolutely against the prospect of chickens so the coop is gone.

  12. Amy Sturgis
    December 19, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Before saying good night I would like to share something. As John and I worked on the property there were many occasions when we needed a certain size screws, nails, tape, wood, staples, measure stick, fly swatter, roofing, siding, bricks, concrete, rocks, hammer, screw driver, flashlight, level, the list goes on and these things were available when needed. They just appeared( I cant explain how, because I just do not know)_, and they were appreciated. The place has a heart, and it wants to keep beating.

  13. Amy Sturgis
    December 19, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    We have made some changes. Initially we felt the need to consult with Ginny before moving forward. She put our mind at ease. So we moved forward.

  14. Amy Sturgis
    December 19, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Xanadu has been a honeymoon retreat, a graduation destination, bacherolette and birthday party hub, wedding anniversary, IU alumni parties,and IU game nights, New Years and Christmas retreats not to mention just a great get away.
    It is tainted however due to the news I received while standing in the front yard. I will never forget the call.

  15. Amy Sturgis
    December 21, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Following the mailer, I missed the blooming of the cherry tree that sits by the Xanadu house. My husband brought me pictures of that tree in full bloom. I missed out on quite a few things following the mailers.

  16. Amy Sturgis
    December 21, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I think I will go out to Xanadu. The home seems to help equalize things. There is a graveyard out there on the property and mementos from those loved ones wanting to memorialize those who lost their lives on St Rd. There is also LIFE out there. Life exceeds the death .It is a very special place.

  17. Amy Sturgis
    December 21, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    And the Marsh property has a whole lot to do with our present state of well being.

  18. Amy Sturgis
    December 21, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    So thank you to the Marsh family for crafting such a wonderful place for us to retreat to. And most of all thank you to my husband and our incredible kids, their tenacity and perseverance is a testament to goodness and all that is right in the world.

  19. Amy Sturgis
    December 22, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Goliath you wrote a lovely piece regarding your family friends, and the place they built. I should not have taken things off topic with my comments. Shit just seemed to flow once I started writing of my own memories of the Marsh home and how it related to lives in the more recent tense, in the lives of those that inhabit it now. Please delete my comments as they are not related to your post. Love you!

  20. December 22, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for the kindness and understanding. -Goliath

  21. Judy Martindale
    January 5, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    I somehow stumbled upon this article. Tom was my Uncle Howard and Aunt Bessie’s son. Uncle Howard was my great-uncle, a brother of my Grandpa Marsh. I did not know Tom very well, but I thought that his wife, Pat, was a lovely, sweet woman. Has she passed? Also, does Dan work at the Cincinnati Zoo? There is a director named Dan Marsh there and I have wondered if that is Tom and Pat’s son. I am sorry that Tom and his dad did not have a good relationship. I loved Uncle Howard and Aunt Bessie. They were wonderful Christian people.

    • January 6, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Hello Judy! Welcome to gawnews. Pat is living in Sellersburg. Dan does in fact direct the Cincinnati Zoo. -Goliath

  22. Judy Martindale
    January 6, 2017 at 10:02 am

    I would love to see her, although I am not sure she would remember me. I saw her just a few times when I was a kid. I still have family who go to the Sellersburg Church of Christ. My mom was from Sellersburg. My grandma lived on Utica St there. Thanks for your response. I know that my Daddy loved his cousin, Tom.

    • January 6, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      I hope you will feel free to add any comments you have about Tom, his family etc. or memories of Tom as a cousin.

  23. Judy Martindale
    January 6, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    I did not really know Tom. I am 15 years younger than he was. I do remember my Daddy getting a call in the 60s telling him that Tom had been in a bad motorcycle accident in Japan. I believe that he was a missionary there. I remember that Daddy was very upset about him being in an accident. Daddy died in January of 2013.

  24. January 7, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    I am sorry to hear about your Dad. Yes, I also recall that Tom Marsh had gone through a serious motorcycle crash in Japan. I think that he and my Dad talked about it some. I do not know the details. I had also forgotten that Tom had been a missionary. He had quite a spiritual journey if he went from being a Christian missionary to a Buddhist or whatever his personal beliefs were at the time of his death.

    • Judy Martindale
      January 7, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      Yes I was thinking the same thing. I am so glad that I ran across your site because I had no idea what a gifted potter he was. I hope to read his book someday and I plan to write to Pat in the near future.

      • January 7, 2017 at 3:28 pm

        I gave my brother a copy of the book for Xmas. It’s a handsome paperback table top size. In addition to an essay by Wendel Berry it also has a poem by Dan on the front …from when he was 10 years old. Beautiful photos of his pottery.

        • Judy Martindale
          January 7, 2017 at 3:50 pm

          May I ask if Tom was able to keep a good relationship with his children after he and Pat divorced.

          • January 7, 2017 at 6:34 pm

            Dan and Amy have both commented here. Beth commented on Facebook. I think I will leave it to them if they want to answer that.

          • January 7, 2017 at 7:21 pm

            I added an update containing some comments.

  25. Judy Martindale
    January 7, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you. Nice chatting with you.

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