Timothy Holsinger, former ceramics teacher at Hilton Head High School and Bluffton High School, passed away Aug. 28 at the age 69, following a short illness.
Those are the sad facts. But Tim’s story is so much more. His is the story of a gifted teacher with an ever-present twinkle and ready smile who inspired students, sparked creativity, taught passionately, offered friendship, created lasting relationships and showed how a caring, devoted teacher can truly make a difference.
His legacy is the hundreds of students whose lives he impacted during his time here … and their thousands of ceramic pots.
Holsinger, the self-proclaimed “Clay Gawd,” loved teaching and loved his students. His studio was a place of creativity, of caring and of fun. For some students, it was a place of refuge where they could find support and guidance. For many, and their families, he was literally a life saver.
Tim’s students became his friends; he was their cheerleader. He attended soccer and basketball games, drama presentations and art shows. He knew their parents, brought his favorite food to their homes, attended former students’ weddings and met their children.
For 23 years, Mr. Holsinger roamed a ceramics studio – first at Hilton Head Middle School, then from 1994 at Hilton Head High, and from 2003 at Bluffton High until 2014, when he retired. He taught hundreds of students to create pots by throwing on the wheel, building with slabs and coils, and pinching clay.
“Your bottom is too thick,” he would thunder from across the room to a novice wheel potter. “You’re not centered yet. Hold your hands more firmly, gently move the clay. Here let me show you. Go higher, go wider. There, see, great work.”
That Holsinger made a lasting impression on his students is told through the many Facebook posts as news of his passing spread.
“Tim was a great mentor and taught me a large part of what I know about clay and about life. Over years in your classroom ceramics became one of my greatest passions. You taught me about the game of life and I can’t thank you enough,” posted Manuel Lopez, now a successful realtor.
“You taught me so many cool things. I remember you thought I was a good student when I didn’t,” said Jamie Caskey.
“Even after graduating, after being my ceramics teacher, you became my long-time friend,” posted Eric Zavala.
“I am blessed to not only have called you a teacher but also a mentor and most importantly my friend,” from Olivia Daugherty.
Tim got off to an auspicious start. He and his identical twin, Tom, were born on New Year’s Eve 1950, in Roaring Spring, Pa., to Paul and Louise Holsinger. Younger brother Cristopher joined the family a few years later, followed by a sister, Linda. Tim also leaves three nephews and a niece.
Following his graduation from Millersville State College, Tim taught art in his hometown high school. In 1979, he went overseas with the Department of Defense to teach in Iceland and England.
Besides developing a passion for hand-knit Icelandic sweaters, Tim’s life changed course overseas. He made lifelong friends, absorbed the many cultures he encountered, and became a man of passion and curiosity. He was an avid student who loved opera, Indian food, cooking, theater and exploring. He traveled at every opportunity and had friends in many parts of the world.
Tim arrived on Hilton Head to start the high school’s new ceramics program when Principal Bill Evans gave him and his fellow teachers the support to build a strong arts curriculum. One of those teachers and long-time friend, Patty Schoelkopf-Lewis, who still teaches photography at Hilton Head High, was recruited by Tim and department head Randalyn Clabaugh in 1997 to expand the visual art department at Hilton Head High School.
“We were quite the crew!” Schoelkopf recalled. “Tim took us young bucks under his wing. He shared his wealth of knowledge, extended his helping hands, and together we created an extraordinary art experience for the students.
“Tim helped install the equipment in the darkroom and my workroom, encouraged my grant writing, my adult photo classes, my masters program, my everyday pedagogy, traveling, and just about everything photographically that I undertook,” said Schoelkopf. “He was my mentor and my friend.”
Tim was a devoted supporter of the Island School Council for the Arts which raised funds for in-school arts program and artist residencies. He donated his pottery for fundraising whenever asked, supporting the Children’s Relief Fund and other organizations for years.
One of the groups of students Tim was most proud of was his Pot Head Moms. These were the mothers of some of his former students who met regularly in the evenings for years at his studio for instruction, purpose and camaraderie.
After retiring in 2014, Tim worked at Preston Studio in Bluffton and the Idea Studio on Hilton Head. But he clearly missed his students, his fellow teachers, the Pot Head Moms and the alumni student potters who would drop by his studio often just to say “hi,” because they missed him too.
Tim brought friendship, curiosity, compassion, joy and a love of learning to many in our community. His influence can already be seen in his many former students who have passed his lessons on to their children.
Rest in peace, Clay Gawd. Job well done.
Karen Cerrati was a Pot Head Mom. Her sons, Michael and Eric, both studied ceramics with Holsinger at Hilton Head High School. More recently, she studied with Tim both at the Preston Studio and Idea Studio.