More than a decade after saying goodbye to Wall Street to follow a truly unconventional path, John Mosler still thinks about the what-ifs. They come, concretely, in phone calls – offers to take gigs that would make him the kind of bank that allowed him a lavish lifestyle for the three decades he spent working at financial firms from Solomon to Lehman Brothers.
“I’d hang up the phone and say no and I’d have a hangover for three days. And would think, ‘That was stupid, you should’ve done that,’ ” he says. “The important thing then is to go back into the studio. And I remember why I’m doing this, and this incredible gift and this incredible thing that happens for me, then I’m okay with that. I don’t want to die with a lot of regrets.”
The “gift” he speaks of is the opportunity he’s seized to turn a lifelong passion in ceramic sculpture into a full-time profession. He did so at 47, after building a reputation on Wall Street as a master at structuring global equity products, mainly derivatives. It was the pinnacle of a path that had been ordained since he was a boy by his father, the CEO of Mosler Safe Company, which provided vaults for – among others – Fort Knox.
Even in his power broker heyday John was something of an eccentric. He spent most of his money on art and donated a good amount to charity. He moved into a TriBeCa loft at a time when the neighborhood was still full of junkies and artists. It was in that loft that he built a ceramic studio, re-igniting a passion that had first sparked when he took an elective class at Princeton, with the accomplished ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu.
After meeting her at one of her show openings, she invited him to an informal group of young artists who met regularly at her studio to work on ceramic projects. It was Toshiko who first planted the idea of him turning full time to art, in 2005. Though it meant giving up on a standard of living that had become seductive, Mosler jumped in 2007.