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He met many as a young boy, the son of Rayer and Leslie Toki who started Leslie Ceramics Supply in Berkeley, a Mecca for sculptors and potters looking for high quality materials and solid advice. Throughout his childhood, John Toki’s parents welcomed artists into their home, giving their son a realistic view of what it was like to make one’s living producing art.
Toki went on to earn his B.F.A. at California State University, Hayward, (now Cal-State East Bay) where family friends Ron Nagle and Clayton Bailey taught. He completed his M.F.A. in ceramics at California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts), where Toki later taught the fine art of clay for 13 years. At the same time he learned the important business and innovation skills that has kept Leslie Ceramics in operation for 50 years, eventually becoming owner and company president. He is the inventor of the Toki Kiln and improved electronic temperature controllers as well as over 400 glazes.
Toki is the co-author of several notable books on ceramic sculpture, including the fifth edition of the classic “Hands in Clay” with Charlotte Speight, and is currently serving as a consultant to New York painter Chuck Close on a ceramic tile project.
An active leader in the Bay Area sculpture community, Toki recently served as a panelist at a Stephen De Staebler retrospective event at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. With John Natsoulas of the Center for the Arts in Davis, Calif., Toki is organizing the Ceramics Annual of America, a three-day September 2012 event at Ft. Mason in San Francisco that will feature about 100 sculptors, including several from other parts of the world.
Toki’s own large-scale ceramic sculptures have been exhibited in California, Arizona, Ohio, Maryland, Wisconsin, Japan and the Netherlands. A recent piece, installed in Davis, Calif., comes equipped with an electric chip for smart phones that allows the viewer to connect with a website.
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