Skip to main content

Senior Peter Cates has spent his time at UT molding his future. Literally.

An artistic entrepreneur, he’s an English major who took an art class on a whim, discovered an interest in pottery, and created a business that helped support him through college. He then penned a novel about a potter and adapted it into a play that debuted in April.

Cates, of Knoxville, graduates on Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in English. He will participate in the College of Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 12.

Undergraduate college commencement ceremonies will take place Thursday through Saturday, May 10 to 12, and graduate hooding will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 10. The university will award 3,113 undergraduate degrees, 923 graduate degrees, 109 law degrees, and 82 veterinary medicine degrees. See the commencement website for a schedule of ceremonies, speakers, security information, and more.

Cates discovered his love for pottery making in the spring of his sophomore year, when a friend encouraged him to take a pottery class as a non-art major.

Making pottery quickly became a passion.

“Pottery is a way for me to meditate almost, it allows me to put the stresses of school into the art work and working with the clay has a very calming effect.”

The summer after taking that class, he started working at Mighty Mud, a local ceramic studio. He spent nearly 60 hours a week at the studio and created enough pieces to start his own pottery business. He sells his works online, through Facebook and Etsy, as well as at Market Square markets.

“It all started because a friend asked to buy one of my pieces, and I said, ‘Sure, $20’. And once that happened a few times, I began to realize my work was worth $20, and that led to a Facebook, and all of a sudden I realized, I created a business.”

He used the money to help pay for his living expenses through college and fund his upcoming backpacking trip around Europe.

Cates spent last summer living and working at DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City—testing the waters to see if he could make a living in his dream city. Between Yankees games and Broadway shows, he began writing a novel about a potter.

After returning home to Knoxville, he adapted the novel into a play.

In high school, Cates was heavily involved in theater, and now with a minor in creative writing, he said the playwriting process made a lot of sense.

“I was working with my friend who’s a part of All Campus Theatre, and she was mentioned there was funding for a show in the spring, and that they hadn’t chosen yet. They ended up choosing my play.”

Cates play, Mandala, is the story of a man coping with emotions after his father’s death.

Mandala incorporates Cates’ passion for pottery as the main character’s outlet for relieving stress, just as it has been for him.

“What I love about theater is you bring together writers and creative directors and lighting and costumes and actors and they all come together that you’ve produced something. I think that’s just the coolest thing,” he said.

Cates will be moving to New York City this summer where he has been applying for jobs and plans to continue his pottery at a studio in Manhattan. With the help of producer friends in New York, he hopes to continue showing Mandala.

“Ultimately I would love a career as a successful writer in New York City, but further along down the road, I may consider law school,” he said.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-8046,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,