I first knew of Richard Peeler through my father, Howard Burkett, who taught organic chemistry at DePauw University. My dad knew Peeler, and they both shared an interest in working with their hands, making things. A few years later, after my first year of college, I needed a summer job and there weren’t a lot of good options. My dad talked to Richard Peeler, who it turned out needed someone to throw ashtrays for him. Peeler agreed to teach me how to throw them, and if I could do it, would pay me by the piece. It was a great job! I fell in love with clay and had summer employment. The next summer Peeler hired me again, with the added job of helping him build his new home studio and kilns. It was a great education, working one-on-one with Peeler, learning about kilns, firing, burners, chimneys, glazes, clays, and hearing lots of stories about his life.
I was hooked on ceramics and switched majors to art. My own college didn’t have much in the way of ceramics, so I spent a semester away and came to DePauw to take ceramics from Richard Peeler in his last semester of teaching. I learned a lot. Peeler always had really high expectations for his students, but that was tempered by his sense of humor and patient explanations. That spring, Peeler took a group of ceramics students from DePauw to one of the early NCECA national conferences at Arrowmont School of Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There I saw not only amazing pottery, but pottery being made by African potter Ladi Kwali, heard noted English potter Michael Cardew talk, and saw my first salt-glazing kiln. I was excited by salt-glazing, and sure enough, Richard Peeler encouraged me to build a salt-glazing kiln, and even gave me a enough used firebrick to build it. It was the generous kind of man he was, always sharing.
After college I started my own pottery studio, the Wild Rose Pottery, on the family farm near Morton, Indiana, and continued to work with Peeler in various ways. For about ten years, until I went to grad school, Peeler and I shared clay and glaze supplies, mixed clay together in my barn in his mixer, and talked about pottery and art. It was a wonderful education that continued far beyond academia.