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This month's feature...

Lillstreet Art Center
David Trost, Director of Ceramics

The new Director of Ceramics at Chicago’s Lillstreet Art Center is an enthusiastic potter and teacher who wants to share the simple fun and pure joy of working with clay. David Todd Trost took over the position of Director this past December after fourteen years of teaching in Lillstreet’s dynamic ceramics program. His wide opus of work includes functional pieces, hand-built sculpture, and portrait platters that draw their inspiration from cartoons, pop culture idols, and his child-like intuitive impulse to create. With over 500 students in ceramic classes at Lillstreet this year, Trost’s leadership is bound to open the creative imagination of children and adults in Chicago.

Lillstreet Art Center was founded in 1975 by potters Martin Cohen and Bruce Robbins and has grown over the past forty years into a large community of artists working and teaching in seven different media. Originally located in a converted horse barn on Lill Avenue in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, the center expanded and moved into a former gear factory on Ravenswood Avenue in 2003. Over 75 faculty members offer courses in ceramics, metal-smithing and jewelry, painting and drawing, printmaking, textiles, glass, and digital arts and photography. Well-appointed studios and classrooms fill the 40,000 square-foot space. In addition to its for-profit educational operation, Lillstreet funds Artreach, its non-profit sister organization that provides over 6,000 hands-on art experiences per year to under-served communities.

Trost traces his interest in the arts to his earliest childhood play in a sandbox. His unfettered imagination reveled in a world of his own making, as he explains:

My bedroom was like a museum. Everything had its place in a rotating display of various tableaus and vignettes. I would draw, make sculptures with Play-Doh, and color incessantly with my crayons. The walls were covered with collages and posters that reflected my evolving tastes in popular culture and were often altered to include myself in the starring roles.

Originally from Rockford, Illinois, Trost’s family moved to north central Pennsylvania when he was in high school. He recalls sneaking out of his study hall to use the school’s potter’s wheel. Not surprisingly, he pursued an art education, earning his B.F.A. at Penn State University. A fellow student there talked to him about Lillstreet Art Center, piquing Trost’s interest in returning to his home state of Illinois. “As soon as I moved back,” he says, “I heard of an opening for a ceramics teacher and applied.” Over the years, Trost has taught virtually all of Lillstreet’s ceramics offerings. Lillstreet’s programs are geared mainly for older teens and adults, with special programs for children during the summer months. There is a mix of new and returning students. Every semester includes a “First-Time Potter” class. Trost says that many of the long-term students are as much a part of the center community as the faculty. He credits his predecessor, Karen Avery, with building a solid, dynamic program. He says, “I’ve been here long enough to see students from our teen programs come back as adults. In fact, one of our current teachers was my student when she was fourteen years old.”

Trost’s new administrative role at Lillstreet has demanded some changes to his own creative work. “I really dove in headlong when I started in December,” he says. “There are some areas I would like to expand into, especially in new digital technologies.” He envisions juggernauting ceramics into technical areas such as vector drawings for adhesive stencils, other print media on clay, and even making clay with a 3-D printer. After getting his feet on the ground with the administrative functions, he has been able to transition back to his own work. “Actually,” he says, “this new position has given me more time for my work because I am now working at only one studio. I’m not wasting time commuting in Chicago traffic to teach at multiple centers. That’s great, but it also means now I have no excuses!” His day now begins early, in his studio, onsite at Lillstreet.

Trost’s work has undergone many transitions. He focused on functional pieces during college. After earning his degree, he began to explore figurative pieces, first in animal forms. “I began to add human elements,” he explains, “and found my work becoming very political for a period.” Most recently, he has been exploring less political themes with his interest in professional wrestling. “This is a performance art that gets no respect,” he says. “Something about that speaks to me as a ceramic artist – an artist in a field that is often discounted in a fine-arts context.” Trost has developed relationships within the small wrestling community, creating ceramic portrait platters and sculptures of iconic wrestling characters. He says, “My art is the process of making manifest by hand the whims of my mind.” In this sense, Trost has not changed much from the imaginative child who created worlds in a sand box. He describes his joy in watching young children he has taught:

These children would pick up a lump of clay and begin to model it into whatever they wanted to see. Often, their creations looked little like what they were attempting to build except to their own eyes. I began to really admire the way they build with a fearlessly intuitive hand, no need for references, no need for accuracy, only the raw desire to see the product of their work and the sheer joy of making.

As Trost moves forward at the helm of Lillstreet’s ceramics program, his philosophy of intuitive creating through craft will inspire many students as they develop a solid technical basis in the art of ceramics.

For more information about Lillstreet Art Center, visit www.lillstreet.com.

To see more of David Todd Trost’s work, visit www.davidtoddtrost.com.


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