He started out studying chemistry. He ended up being an artist.
For Ted Camp, it seems like a natural progression.
Camp, who’s now 67, spent most of his career at State College of Florida, where he headed the art department for many years. He had such a long career at SCF that the college had three different names — Manatee Junior College, Manatee Community College and State College of Florida — and several presidents during his tenure.
“There were four,” he said. He lists the names and then says. “Maybe five. There were five. I can’t remember the name of the first one.”
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He’s retired from SCF now, but he’s still active as an artist and as an educator. He has a ceramics studio in his West Bradenton home, where he lives with his wife, Bobbi, and their dogs, Hana and Benny. He teaches at ArtCenter Manatee, where he also serves on the board.
His work is usually on sale in the ArtCenter Manatee artists’ market, and he occasionally shows his work in exhibitions there. Actually, he says, he’s not often represented in the center’s exhibitions.
“We have themed shows,” he said. “But I’m not too good about finding out what the themes are in time.”
Camp has two younger brothers, both of whom are in artistic professions. But he didn’t have an upbringing centered around creativity.
“My father was a purchasing agent for a copper company in New York City,” he said. “I remember eagerly waiting for him to come home so he could draw me pictures of earth-moving equipment.”
The very young Ted was in awe of his father’s drawing skills, but that was pretty much the extent of the art that he grew up with.
In college at Indiana University, Camp majored in chemistry for a while. He liked it OK, but it didn’t really thrill him. Then he took a ceramics class, just for fun, and found his passion.
He loved the tactile sensations and the aesthetic experience. But unlike a lot of potters, especially contemporary ones, he was really captured by the chemistry of ceramics.
“Ceramicists today go out and buy the clay and buy the glazes,” he said. “You lose a lot of control when you do that. I enjoy making my own clay. There’s so much you can make your clay do.”
Artists lose a bit of control when they don’t make their own, but students lose some fundamental understanding of their craft.
“A lot of students only have access to one kind of clay,” he said. “Some students coming up now will never have that kind of knowledge of their materials.”
So Camp still makes all his own clay, and all his own glazes, which allow him to manipulate his creations in ways a lot of potters can’t. He also often builds his own kilns. He built the gas kiln at ArtCenter Manatee and he built kilns at SCF. He likes to build the kilns he uses, in part, because modern electric kilns often fire pots at lower temperatures, and sometimes chemicals in the glazes can leech out into foods and beverages that people put in pots and dishes.
He came to what is now SCF in 1973. Besides teaching, he was charged with developing a ceramics program at the college.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” he said, “and I enjoyed the development end of it.”
Over the years, his teachings have informed and enriched his art. He’s often inspired by students’ ideas and insights.
“Teaching is an exchange of ideas,” he said, “and people have the idea that the ideas flow from the teacher to the student. But it goes both ways. It’s a collaboration.”
He retired from SCF in 2010. It was his first teaching job, outside of the teaching he did as a grad student in college, and he kept it for 26 years.
But 26 years of teaching ceramics wasn’t enough. Shortly after he retired, he stopped into Art Center Manatee.
“I basically knocked on the door,” he said. “I just came in and asked what they needed.”
He’s been a teacher ever since, and a board member almost since the beginning.
“Ted is obviously a very talented artist,” said Carla Nierman, the center’s executive director. “His knowledge of the medium of clay is invaluable to our students.”