Florida Keys News
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Artist Jay Gogin, Key West's 'Original Hairy Potter,' dies

Jay Gogin, who put the Florida Keys Community College Ceramics Department on the map with his "Mud Pi" fundraising dinners, has fired his final kiln.

The self-proclaimed "Original Hairy Potter" died Thursday at the Lower Keys Medical Center after suffering from liver and kidney failure for about a week.

He was 57.

Gogin coined his own nickname as a self-deprecating homage to his trademark lengthy beard and hair.

The amiable instructor harbored a lifelong passion for Raku ware pottery -- a yen he enthusiastically shared with generations of FKCC students during his near quarter-century professorship there. Gogin's slightly eccentric, yet genial disposition over time transformed him into one of the town's larger-than-life characters.

Visiting district school students of all ages also benefitted from Gogin's knowledge and fervor for teaching. This was particularly true during the trying, post-Hurricane Wilma period in 2005 when the college opened its doors, and instructional budget, to students of low-lying area schools dealt a devastating blow by the storm.

Gogin's easy smile and friendly demeanor were a comforting and familiar presence at gallery openings and other artistic happenings around Key West, where he was regarded as a prolific, generous and influential figure by his colleagues and fellow travelers in the town's creative community.

During a pinch pot-making session with Poinciana Elementary School students in 2005, the ceramics maestro happily noted the number of familiar faces in the room.

"Several have parents or even grandparents who have worked with me here," Gogin said at the time. "They're having a blast with it and so am I."

In 1997, Gogin and his wife, Robin, founded "Mud-Pi," a casual college ceramics club/faux fraternity. The next year, the inaugural "Mud-Pi" dinner was held at the Gogins' Key West home. These legendary gatherings became an annual tradition with patrons carrying off the attractive, hand-made bowls in which their meals were served. The proceeds were used to help fund educational trips to the ancient Japanese pottery village of Tokaname, another of Gogin's exciting initiatives.

In time the Japanese visits became a kind of ceramics cultural exchange program, bringing many students from the Land of the Rising Sun to the United States -- often for the first time.

In 2000, the Gogins renewed their marital vows in Japan.

"When the [Japanese] students come [to Key West] they love it, although it's a real shock for most of them who haven't traveled outside of Asia," Gogin said in a 2001 interview. "Women especially find that they have more freedoms here."

Before long, the Gogins were bringing "The Wind From Key West," actually an elaborate "Mud-Paella" dinner, to Tokaname, where Gogin also made many friends. There, too, diners were left with ceramic souvenirs from the visiting Key Westers.

Gogin was born Jan. 14, 1957, in Pewaukee, Wis. For a time he attended a seminary, considering a career in the priesthood, before happening upon ceramic art.

His career in pottery took off at the age of nine when he defiantly created his first piece to prove to his skeptical parents that his lengthy hair wouldn't prevent him from becoming a potter.

As a young man, Gogin began showing his work at small Midwestern art festivals, where his unique, Zen-inspired technique quickly gained him a following. Soon this translated into international gallery exhibits and sales. His ceramic masterpieces can be found in numerous public and private collections throughout the U.S. and in more than a dozen other countries.

Gogin met his wife at the yacht club in Stevens Point, Wis., in 1982. Together they moved to Key West in 1990, where Gogin began teaching a ceramics course at FKCC. The class and its teacher were an instant hit, and the program soon expanded to include ceramics for beginners, Raku, wheel throwing, ceramic mural design, and Japanese wood-firing.

At the center of it all was Gogin's immense talent and natural ability as an instructor. He hosted visiting artists from around the globe, began leading cultural and educational trips to Europe, and organized numerous workshops, exhibits and fundraisers

Along with the overseas excursions, the Gogins and "Mud-Pi" set out to enhance the awareness and appreciation of ceramic art in the community. Dozens of intricately crafted ceramic sculptures, pots, wall murals and water fountain urns were created, which helped shape the zeitgeist of the FKCC campus.

Similar works can be found around the Keys at locations as varied as the Key West Public Safety Building and the Kathy's Hope Serenity Garden at the nonprofit Samuel's House. Gogin even crafted custom beer tankards for the members of a social club he helped create at Finnigan's Wake pub.

Two years ago, longtime FKCC supporter -- and Gogin student -- Michael Dively showed his appreciation of Gogin's inspiration by ponying up a $25,000 endowment to establish the "Jay Gogin Excellence in Visual Arts Award" at the college.

Each spring, in perpetuity, a promising FKCC student artist will receive $1,000.

"I still remember with fondness my ceramic classes at FKCC," said Dively, a former Michigan legislator and college professor. "This award recognizes Jay's creativity, energy and commitment to his students -- and the impact Jay's artistic creations have made at the college and around Key West."

Another of Gogin's students, Thivo Foster, who now lives and works in Miami Beach, was heartbroken at the news of his passing.

"Twenty years ago my husband and I were always in the Keys as snowbirds," said Foster, who specializes in Nerikomi pottery, another Japanese ceramic discipline. "One year, I signed up in ceramics classes at FKCC, where I met Jay Gogin. I joined his 'Mud-Pi' and continued to support it while we were back home in Cleveland. We moved to Key West, instead of California as planned, thanks to Jay and the ceramics department in FKCC. From then until now, Jay is always in my admiration as a wonderful artist and a best friend who was always there when needed. Jay Gogin's passing is a big loss to [the] community and the FKCC students."

FKCC President Jonathan Gueverra on Saturday released the following statement:

"The word legend is often overused or misused when we describe certain individuals. To say that Jay is a legend is no exaggeration. His finest qualities extend beyond his artistic and creative abilities. Jay's kindness, his generosity and his willingness to share and to serve simply because these were the right things to do will never be forgotten. Through his artistic expression we will all continue to benefit.

"On behalf of the entire FKCC community I say thank you to Jay Gogin for his almost 25 years of service. I especially want to thank his wife, Robin, who is equally generous and allowed the rest of us to be a part of their lives."

Gogin is survived by his wife Robin, two brothers, Glenn and Greg, and his mother, Glorida.

A celebration of Gogin's life will be announced at a later date.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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