Builder, potter: Bobby Kadis

Pottery by Bobby Kadis photographs by Geoff Wood

Thirty-five years ago, commercial real estate developer Bobby Kadis was strolling through an arts fair in Goldsboro with his wife Claudia when he saw a man throwing a pot on a wheel. Kadis was mesmerized. The next day, Claudia signed her husband up for a pottery class, and he has never looked back.

Today Kadis, 77, co-founder of Centrex Properties, Inc., is also a renowned potter. “I just fell in love with throwing pots,” he says. “I loved the clay right away.”

He has shown his pots most recently in a solo show at Raleigh’s Roundabout Art Collective. He has supported fellow artists for decades as well, in his 17 years as a board member and immediate past chair of the North Carolina Arts Council, as board member of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and as past director of the Goldsboro Community Arts Council.

Pottery has taken him places he’d never have otherwise ventured. To Penland School of Crafts, which he has attended every summer since 1978 and has also served for many years as a member of the board. “Penland is a second home to me.”

His first home – and his now-occasional day job – is in Raleigh, where Centrex, the real estate development and property management business he founded in the early 1960s with his brother, has its headquarters. Kadis describes himself as “semi-retired” now that his son and nephew have taken over the business.

Pottery by Bobby KadisThese days, Kadis throws most of his pots on retreats and in workshops in places like Penland, Tuscany, and Chile, because he likes to work intensively for several days or weeks at a time. Though he has a studio in the basement of his Raleigh home, “You can’t just go down and throw a few pots and come back up.”

The first time he went to Penland, Kadis says, “I thought I was going on vacation. I brought books and magazines.” He smiles at the memory. “I did no reading. I stayed in the studio most of the day and most of the night, working and working. I concentrated on the clay and all of the problems of the day fell out of my mind.”

It was the beginning of a serious sideline as a potter. “When I came home, I was pretty much a changed person in how I looked at everything,” he says. He began focusing on the aesthetics of the buildings he was putting up, the landscaping that surrounded them. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can make that a little nicer.’ ”

Kadis became an avid collector of pottery, too, compiling a array of vessels that decorate the house he and Claudia share in West Raleigh. He’s brought home most of these from stints at Penland and other artist residencies. “When I look at them I see the people I know who made them,” he says, pointing out favorites among a vast collection that fills a living room wall. “And in many cases I understand how they made it.”

“I bought that pot 30 years ago,” Kadis says, gesturing to a vessel made by renowned potter Bob Turner, whom Kadis describes as a “major influence” on his own pottery. “He just got inside my head.”

Instead of teaching him technique, Kadis says Turner taught him “how to look at things,” to consider “the relationship between the lid and the pot,” for instance, or “the relationship between the handle on the lid and the pot itself.”

Turner “found beauty in everything,” Kadis says. “It was one hell of an awakening. It was life-changing. He knew the ugliest thing in the world is not caring.”

Kadis finds himself caring more over time, he says, shedding styles and techniques learned from teachers and developing more of a personal stamp. “I never thought of myself as an artist,” he says. “I thought of myself as learning technique…I didn’t develop a style of my own until recently.”

Lately, he’s been incorporating what he calls “faceting” into his pieces, cutting the clay in various patterns that look like facets on a stone. “If I had a signature, that would be it…that was a long time coming!” He laughs. “In the last several years I’ve realized: I’m on my way. I’ve got a vision.”  -L.R.