Next Generation: Finalist, Thaddeus Erdahl

Next Generation: Finalist, Thaddeus Erdahl

Published on Monday, May 18, 2015. This article appears in the June/July 2015 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Staff
Thaddeus Erdahl

As a ceramic artist, Erdahl creates modern, mythic characters – with a special emphasis on those found at the margins and the underbelly of society. Photo: Courtesy of Charlie Cummings Gallery

Thaddeus Erdahl remembers when Arthur Gonzalez, the iconoclastic sculptor, visited the University of Northern Iowa, where Erdahl was majoring in ceramics and art education. “I realized I didn’t have to make pots,” says Erdahl, who went on to an MFA from the University of Florida. “It was like being given permission to make what was in my head. After that, I never looked back.” 

What compels you about clay? 
Its versatility, responsiveness, and its ability to mimic other materials. 

What’s the best or most rewarding part of your work? 
The physicality of the work – and the manic moments in the studio creating the sculptures. I love those moments when the idea is rough, and you have to work and struggle with the clay to find the sculpture. 

What’s frustrating? 
Working in clay is often not fast enough for me. The material requires a certain amount of patience, and sometimes I don’t have patience. 

Who has been your biggest supporter? 
My wife, Stephanie Stuefer. She’s always been there, behind the scenes, helping me with everything from writing my artist statements to reassuring me when I’m overwhelmed in the studio. She also works in ceramics and understands the rigors of studio work and balancing commitments. 

My parents and family have always supported my decisions, whether those decisions were to join the military right out of high school, double-major in undergrad, or take a leap of faith and go to graduate school. They’ve always been there, always supportive. 

Speaking broadly for a moment: What does this field need more of? 
Patrons who understand its significance. There are certainly patrons of the craft world, but not enough who see it for more than “crafts.” How do you define success? How will you know when you’ve made it? 

How do you define success? How will you know when you've made it?
When someone writes a really bad review about my work and I don’t care. 

Rewind to the beginning of your career. What could you not have predicted? 
I never thought that as my artistic career began to flourish, I would simultaneously have a baby and be teaching pre-K–fourth-grade art full time. 

Finally: What are three words people would use to describe you? 
Animated, tall, hairy. 

Read more Emerging Voices Award profiles.