Exploding Pots and Steel Roots by Steve Tobin

Exploding Pots and Steel Roots by Steve Tobin

Steel Roots by Steve Tobin

Out of this World: Works by Steve Tobin opened at the Michener Art Museum on June 28. His work is featured in the Paton/Smith/Della Penna-Fernberger Gallery as well as in the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden.  He has various works displayed, such as his steel roots, exploded pots, and bronze sculptures. Steve Tobin received his B.S. from Tulane University in mathematics. He originally worked in glass, but soon began working in other mediums. He is a local artist with his studio in Quakertown.  Does any of Tobin’s work look familiar to you? You may recognize his Trinity Root displayed in Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. Some of his sculptures were displayed at the 2014 Philadelphia Flower show which was themed “Articulture”.


I was intrigued by Tobin’s exploded clay pots, particularly the process used to create them. He begins by sculpting a cube out of clay, and gives the form various textures by smashing them onto different objects. He then places a firecracker inside the wet cube of clay and sets it off. The chemicals from the explosive leave behind the rich and vibrant colors. Later, he adds glaze to the pots. Tobin sometimes embeds glass and chemicals into the bottom of the ceramics, giving it a water-like appearance. During the firing, the glass will take on the color of the chemical.  His process of exploding pots allows for an irregular outside shape but a smooth, circular inside. This cannot be done on a potters’ wheel. I love the fact that there is an uncertainty in his final product; every piece is different and there is no way of predicting the exact outcome.

Tobin began working in steel, creating natural forms that show the relationship between humankind and earth. The steel sculptures begin as paintings inspired by Japanese calligraphy. When Tobin first saw these Japanese paintings, he viewed them as a sculpture. His steel structures change over time as they are affected by the weather. Rainwater and snow can change the surface by creating patterns and textures. Tobin also likes to play with scale with these pieces. Some are small, and others tower over buildings. As soon as I looked at the sculptures, I immediately saw them to be figurative. In each of the Steelroots, there appear to be two figures dancing together, with long flowing arms that give the piece a sense of movement.

Tobin is interested in what cannot be seen. He claims that he will work with steel for the rest of his career. “I try to make icons from nature so that people see themselves and the earth differently. I think I’ve created my own visual language. “ -Steve Tobin

Steve Tobin is a prolific artist. His works also include bronze sculptures, such as Romeo and Juliet, which are displayed on the lawn between the museum and the library. He also has a series of bronze pieces called Syntax that are comprised of numerous letter and numbers. These sculptures can be found in the sculpture garden and on Pine Street, between the Michener and Mercer Museums. Videos of Tobin creating his steel sculptures and exploding pots can be found on his website.

Elena Tontoni
Intern, Alfred University

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