Meet the Clay Ninja

“I remember watching him create a few clay pieces on the wheel. He made it look so easy, so effortless, and within minutes he would turn this clump of clay into a mug, a bowl, or a teapot. It was as if he was a ninja! A ninja of clay! So, I began calling him that, and it stuck.” – Bob Villamagna

Lambros ourside the WLU Ceramics Studio

Lambros Tsuhlares’  passion for pottery started in the early 1970’s while attending Fairmont State University. Ceramics was a required class and at first he was skeptical, “What the hell do dishes have to do with art?” Lambros said.  Later, Fairmont State scheduled his work-study with the ceramics instructor. During his work study he would mix clay and glazes in exchange for private studio time. After some time, he began to love the art and has not stopped since.  “It’s so funny because going to class I would think to myself that I am a serious art student. I don’t need this.” Tsuhlares laughed.

He started his career soon after, around 1975. He sold his artwork to local buyers. In the 80’s his wife went to graduate school in California. There he had a studio for about 5 years and sold to various galleries along the beaches. “I was surrounded by many great artists at the time.” Lambros said.

Lambros is a potter at heart but another passion of his is teaching. His first teaching gig was at Triadelphia Middle School, the one that is now a community center. “I was hired because I was big and they were having disciplinary problems.” Lambros said. He was warned that the school had absolutely no budget. His first classroom was equipped with all the tools that they would need but no materials. To get past this issue he would take his students out to dig their own clay. “This was the first time I dug my own clay too. It was a fun experience.” Lambros said. He taught his students how to process the clay and they also made tempera paints using natural pigments from flowers and rocks.

This process of digging his own clay continued in his lesson plan at West Liberty University. “When I started teaching at West Liberty for the first couple assignments I would have my students dig their own clay.” he said. Lambros just retired this year after 20 years of employment at West Liberty University. During his time there he has touched many students and faculty. Student Thomas Stollar personally believed Lambros was a great instructor. “I have many fond memories of Lambros, interestingly many of these memories exist outside of class time. Lambros is a professor who takes the time to provide students with learning opportunities at all possible moments.” said Stollar.

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Lambros Tsuhlares and colleague Bob Villamagna on one of their many art adventures.

A colleague, Bob Villamagna, says that Lambros brought a positive atmosphere to the classroom. “If he discovers a better way to do things, he doesn’t keep it a secret. He shares it with you. He’ll give you what he has. If he knows a technique or trick that might help you be a better artist, he is willing to share that with you, regardless of media.” said Villamagna. He said that this kind of positivity is contagious. “It makes me want to share as well. To pass information onto other artists. It frees you up, if that makes sense, and makes you a better person.” Bob continued.

Lambros will be missed on campus by many colleagues. “The first thing that I will miss is “Lunch with Lambros”. For years, Lambros, our late friend and colleague Paul Padgett, and I would meet for lunch every Tuesday at the cafeteria on campus,” said Villamagna. Every Tuesday they would discuss art, teaching, students, the environment, politics- nothing was off the table. Lambros and Bob continued the tradition after the passing of their close friend, Paul Padgett.

Tsuhlares and Villamagna both expressed how they are going to miss their annual art trips to New York City. “We would take about ten students and stuff as much art as possible into four days. Great Times!” said Villamagna. “I hope West Liberty can continue to do these trips for the students. The experience is so rich,” said Lambros.

The Clay Ninja at work in the studio

Lambros valued his time at West Liberty University and has expressed many events that he is going to miss. One of the events includes the spring semester faculty show, the New York trips, and raku pottery firings. Raku ware is a type of Japanese pottery traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Lambros would invite students, friends and family to this event. Lambros expressed that it was like a party that created a sense of community. Everyone would bring a covered dish and it would turn into a big potluck dinner while they all looked at the beautiful pottery. The tea parties in Japan are a lot different but Lambros expressed that he still portrayed the same concept. In Japan during the tea parties everyone was on the same level. While at Lambros’ get-together they would create a sense of community and that everyone was on the same level just appreciating the art.  “I had lots of wonderful memories at West Liberty University.” Lambros said.

“You’re looking at it right here, I’m making pots.” Lambros said after being asked what his plans are after retirement. Currently, he is doing what he loves to do most and that is create art. Right now he is selling his works at wholesale and he occasionally retails at fairs. “Sometimes I mix it up, if I don’t want to make three hundred pots. I’ll just make 3 or 4 and sell them at a fair.”  Lambros stresses to young potters that there is a market for pottery. “If you can make pots there is someone out there that will buy them.”

Besides making pots Lambros spends time with his family. He is also a Wheeling Park Band parent and works the concession stands at home games in support of his daughter.