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Watral, James D.

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October 7, 1942 - October 5, 2014

Watral, James D.

James David Watral passed away on the morning of October 5, 2014. James was born in Cleveland, OH on October 7, 1942. He is proceeded in death by his father and mother, Paul and Lillian Watral, and brother Paulie.

James is survived by his sister Pat Bruno and her family, his lifelong friend Mickie McGraw, and many many friends, fellow educators, former students, and artists across the country.

Watral began his career in the arts at The Cleveland Institute of Art. He studied under Toshiko Takaezu upon the recommendation of his professors. After graduating from CIA, Watral joined the MFA program at Tulane University. James moved to Dallas, TX in 1969 when he landed a teaching position at East Texas State University (nka Texas A&M at Commerce) where he taught for 12 years, and became an integral part of the art department. James taught at Texas Women’s University and Southern Methodist University. James retired his teaching career in 2011 after 10 years of service at Eastfield College.

Watral’s clay sculptures have been exhibited at Gerald Peters Gallery of Dallas, and various galleries across the southern and western US. Watral’s works are in the collections of American Airlines, Dallas Museum of Art, Art Museum of Southeast Texas and many other private homes and businesses. Images of Watral’s works have been published in Lark Books 500 Plates & Chargers.

A memorial celebration for James and his artistic life will be held at his studio on Saturday, November 8th, from 2-6pm. Tell a story and raise a glass to toast Watral. Nostravia!  1419 Griffin Street East  Dallas, TX 75215 .

Arrangements are under the direction of:
ARIA Cremation Service & Funeral Home
10116 E. NW Highway
Dallas, Texas 75238

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Olivia Simonich, nee Johnson

November 28, 2020 1:32AM

I took ceramics 2 semesters n early 60's. He was always experimenting w/glazes. I recall being picked to retrieve dead fish from pond on etsu campus & feeling very special. I got to ho to his house n country also w/artist friend later husband. He was a very good artist & person. Miss u, dear one.

S Sage

November 13, 2019 9:02PM

I saw that Chris Worley was showing some work, and it made me remember how much I loved taking classes with James. A wonderful, kind, and dedicated professor. It’s nice to remember him through all the stories of his students.

Gregory Gaiser

March 25, 2016 4:47PM

Oh, the power of the internet to find lost friends and those who have passed. It touches a place of nostalgic tenderness in my heart to discover this obituary for James. He was a good friend (and horizontal companion) in the 70s when I was a student of photography at East Texas State. He was always gracious, generous of heart and patient with my youth.
So many wonderful memories of those days...dinners at the house in the country and sophisticated excursions to Dallas come to mind. And there was hanging out at the laundromat studio and James letting me glaze my own cup! Perhaps one of my favorite memories though was the day I drove out to the house and to my ears' amazement, James was sitting at the piano and singing opera! Of course I had accidentally transgressed a threshold of privacy that I was not meant to know about, much less witness. So I sat on the front porch without his knowledge and just listened. After the surprise of discovering me there, he received me with usual grace and humor and on we went.
We lost touch for decades when I moved to Colorado, and then a few years back, he called me out of the blue. But the old connection was there and he just wanted me to know that I had always been kind to him. So sweet to hear after such a long time. He was beyond kind to me, and an important part of my development (like so many others). I will remember him always.


November 02, 2015 12:20PM

I was a student in Professor Watral's ceramics classes, and it was such a amazing experience. He had such a mellow demeanor and always looked forward to his class. He was a talented and very encouraging teacher. He will be missed dearly.

Ann Tschoerner

March 01, 2015 10:39PM

i met James in 1972 at ETSU. I had just graduated from NTSU, moved to Paris TX with a job teaching middle school art. I was desperate to go to graduate school and associate with adults again. I went to the art department at ET and was told there were no night or Saturday art classes. In order to go to grad school I had to quit my job and come over full time. I had to work to make $$ !!! James was listening to my wailing about school. He was so perceptive and knew I had to get back in school to be around adults and artists and that I was going crazy teaching middle school. He told me to register for his class and come late it would be fine. I became a ceramics major that semester. He gave me advice about teaching and his words got me thru 25 years teaching high school art. James would bring me wild flowers. He always knew when I needed an extra nice word. I don't think I would have kept teaching without the wonderful help James gave me. He taught techniques that were invaluable to me. I just loved that man and will never forget him and his kindness. He was a genius artist/teacher.

Kay Thomas

December 14, 2014 3:44PM

Mr. Jim, Mr. Jim oh how you will be missed! Jim Watral was one of the pivotal mentors in my artistic life. Always knew the exact thing to say to a young artist. His critiques were always personal to each student. I graduated with a BFA in 1976 under Mr. Watral. Even now, 40 years later as I work on a clay sculpture his words ring in my mind. An era in American ceramics has ended. Jim is gone but his legacy lives on in the lives of the students he touched.

Amanda T

November 07, 2014 10:42AM

I was a student in Professor Watral's ceramics class, and it was such a fun experience. I remember him as having such a mellow demeanor, it was always nice to go to class. He was a talented and very encouraging teacher, and also very patient. Everyone at Eastfield will miss him.


November 06, 2014 12:35PM

What a great inspiration you were to will be missed...Henry

William "Billy" Rodriguez

November 05, 2014 11:37AM

I first met James at his apartment located in the lower Greenville area. It was a holiday party, as I recall, and Busby Berkeley and operatic CDs played loudly while the champagne and conversation flowed liberally.

I subsequently had the pleasure of visiting James at his studio/apt at the Cotton Xchg and he always made me feel so special (and inebriated - ha!). What a treat it was to be introduced by James to his many friends! Even more special was the day I purchased two terracotta works of art from his Heroes collection and took them home to add to my art collection. Equally pleasurable was buying any one of his delightfully shaped and colorful every day pieces fresh out of one of his kilns many of which I had the pleasure of giving to family and friends as much treasured gifts.

James's move to his last residence in the compound seemed to bring much needed balance and comfort for James as well as an even bigger playground. Besides hosting delicious dinner parties, his annual pre-holiday sale, who can ever forget the Pee Wee Herman Holiday Party he co-hosted with Hampton, Rusty, Paul and me. Remember his cat in the hat costume that he wore with that uncontrollable tail that almost took out some of his best pottery pieces! The night was magical, unforgettable and revisiting those photos always brings a smile to my face.

James was the best friend and teacher who lead by word and example. He taught me what it means to be smart, passionate, giving and how invaluable it is to share your God given talents with others. He will be missed. God bless James!


November 02, 2014 6:15PM

Jim taught me everything I know about pottery. I was left handed and he taught me how to throw on the wheel. He was a great teacher and friend while I was a student at East Texas State University. He always had a smile on his face. I am looking at a piece of his pottery right now.

Phyllis King

November 02, 2014 3:38PM

James was my professor, mentor during my time at ETSU in 70's.There were some amazing students and faculty members there during that time...he was first to believe in my efforts and invest wholeheartedly in my creative journey on many aspects of my personal and professional career.At one point, I shared a studio space with him in an old laundry mat ...he insisted on blasting opera/classical music which at the time was like nails on a blackboard but now I cherish times to listen to it because it remnds me of cherished Watral memories. The smell of garlic also does this...he loved it ...his kitchen in house, outside of Commerce , Tx.,always had a hint of garlic in the air...great magical times and comforting memories with the sound of his voice in the background with a cigarette always near!!

Hampton Burwick

October 23, 2014 11:50PM

Thank you, Janet, for that story. James told many stories about growing up in the tavern. I could almost hear his voice through your words.

Janet (Watral) Malson

October 23, 2014 4:08PM

Jim and I are cousins. We had many adventures as youngsters. At his Mom and Dad's Taveren (Lil's Taveren) my Mom Mary Watral worked daily. Jim, Pat, and I had so much fun...doing some crazy things..I remember there where railroad trackers we walked on and put plays on in a empty room above the Taveren ... We went to many Disney Ice showes. But most of all we where on American Bandstand when the show came to Cleveland. What a thrill...but most of all we where the best polka partners at every family or friends weddings.. Oh what fun.. I tried to contact him many times with no respondence..I am not vey computer svey so I probably did something wrong. I will always remember all the time spent with him and his family. Much love and sympathy to all family and friends. Janet Malson

Bette Drake

October 21, 2014 11:33AM

I knew James from the Cleveland Inst
Institute of Art where we were both in Ceramics. We both got into Tulane
and shared a studio in the art school for almost 2 years. He was my best buddy; an opera fan, and one of the most interesting and original people in my life. Never a dull moment around Jim. Sorry he's gone.

Marjorie Burditt

October 20, 2014 12:23PM

As a teacher and friend, James inspired and encouraged, laughed and shared good times. I'll miss you, James.

Mary Lynn Bowman

October 18, 2014 2:14PM

James lit up my life and that of so many others. I sure will miss that bruiser who was part of my life for forty years. A wonderful teacher to us all and could make anyone laugh! A true character and one of a kind.

Mary Wester Blaha

October 16, 2014 9:46PM

My long time mentor and friend will never be forgotten.