Geneseo students may have heard of “mug guy” Jonathan “Paul” Thomas and Pit’s Pots, but few know the story behind the artwork. A senior psychology major from Mount Morris, New York, Thomas has experimented with art for most of his life. Despite his lifelong experience working in the art field, Thomas explained that he does not consider many of his earlier pieces to truly be art.
“I don’t know, I would say that most of the stuff I used to do doesn’t count as artwork,” he said. “Much of it just wasn’t intentionally crafted in such a way––doodles and paintings for art class in high school. They weren’t me trying to be artistic. [They were] just something to do.”
Thomas noted that his artistic endeavors are now primarily centered on ceramics. Other than a ceramics class in high school, Thomas explained that he is mostly self-taught. “I picked up a few things from YouTube,” he said. “Most of it was self-taught with books.”
Thomas not only creates unique mugs, pots and bowls, but he also sells them. Coming in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and designs, Thomas’s pottery can be bought via the Internet. He has a Facebook page––Pit’s Pots––as well as an Instagram account, @pits_pots. He said the mugs shown on these pages are all handcrafted and represent the best of his creations. “I keep the bad ones—the ones that I don’t think are good enough to sell,” he said. According to Thomas, he strives to keep the prices reasonable, and the transactions are fairly simple.
Although Thomas is an artist, he admitted to having some semblance of a business strategy. “If a certain carving pattern or a certain form … gets a lot feedback and people like it or if it sells really fast, I’ll try to carry that popular motif into some other pots and see if it’s going to be generally well-liked,” he said.
Thomas explained that he draws inspiration from mentor and fellow ceramicist Clare Keating, whom he met over a decade ago at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. “I kind of just grew up seeing her make pots,” Thomas said. “She’s this really nice, old British lady who was classically trained [in ceramics]. I work with her pretty closely now.” Thomas also listed Salvador Dali and other surrealist artists as a source of artistic influence, although he noted that surrealism “doesn’t really translate into functional stonework.”
Thomas has also worked to expand his artistic range through two-dimensional art classes offered at Geneseo, including watercolor and drawing.
When he’s not sculpting, Thomas enjoys doing yoga. “I do yoga up at Shatki [Yoga], the old Sundance [Books textbook outlet] … which is weird [because] I used to work at Sundance for my first three years here,” he said. “I was the only kid working there and to go in there now to do yoga, it’s so funny.” He also added that he enjoys listening to music, sleeping and playing video games.
As for the future, Thomas explained that he doesn’t have a definite plan. “I really just want to find some kind of full-time job and work there for a couple years, and then go on a big trip,” he said. “I hate the winter, so I would really like to leave [New York]. I have family in Arizona, so I’d probably go there or California.” Whether or not that sunny future includes self-made pottery remains to be seen.