By Amanda Stoll / Photography by Craig Stocks
In an old brick warehouse south of downtown Peoria you’ll find a man in a work shirt and jeans, covered in white dust, sitting around a revolving plate and a hunk of clay. His name is Jacob Grant, and he is a potter.
Jacob grew up in Arcola, Illinois, a small town south of Champaign. Growing up on a farm, his mind was focused on the analytical, not the creative.
It wasn’t until middle school when he got into art, after having an art teacher show him that he could draw. He continued in art until his freshman year of college, when he studied art for a semester at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois.
After finishing his general education courses, he considered going to auto mechanic school in Chicago. Instead, he ended up at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois, again majoring in art and getting his “head back screwed on tight.”
Soon after completing his associate’s degree, he was majoring in art at Eastern Illinois University. Then his plans changed again.
“I thought I was going to do painting and drawing, to be quite honest, but when I got to Eastern I had to take a 3-dimensional class,” Jacob said. “I took ceramics to start off with and fell in love with it.”
His love for ceramics and pottery continued as he worked odd jobs, and he decided to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts at Bradley University. He studied ceramics and taught classes at Bradley, Illinois Central College, and Robert Morris University up until last year.
“I loved going to Bradley. I loved having three years to dedicate to work,” he said. “It was three of the best years of my life and especially of being an artist.”
After working at the Peoria Art Guild for 5 years, the studio school program was shut down, and he and Suzie Mathews decided to open a studio of their own.
They opened Wheel Art Pottery Studios in 2010 and relocated to a new facility last summer. Jacob loves working with the community, teaching classes and offering memberships to the studio (similar to how a gym membership works).
Pottery has a certain amount of chemistry involved in the process, from firing the pots to making glazes, which taps into the analytical side of his brain.
According to Jacob, much of the artistic community sees pottery as a craft instead of an art form. It’s a challenging medium that takes a long time to master, and for Jacob the challenge and functionality of pottery combined with the form is what draws him in.
“The pragmatic vessel just made sense to me because I came from farm country. Something that had a purpose made sense. I didn’t grow up around art… I grew up around the mentality that things had to have a purpose,” he said. “The functionality got a hold of me pretty quickly, but also the fact that the medium was so different and so challenging compared to anything else I had ever done.”
As far as form is concerned, he draws inspiration from the human form and nature for much of his design and colors. The parts of pots are related to parts of the human body: neck, shoulder, waist, belly, and foot.
“I’m inspired by elements of nature other than just the human form. For texture I often look to rocks, trees and grass,” he said. “The colors I’m drawn to are often earthy colors… really most of my stuff comes from elements of nature.”
Jacob teaches 8-week class series throughout the year, as well as special workshops like the Couple’s Wine and Clay Workshops, and the studio is available for parties.