Thurnau's history is closely linked to the pottery trade and can be traced back to the 16th century. As the only pottery village in Upper Franconia, the handicraft tradition could be maintained without interruption up to the present day with up to eight potteries working at the same time. They mainly produced tableware made of earthenware. With the arrival of the artist Günther Stüdemann (1890-1981) in 1939, who introduced new craft techniques such as faience painting, academic working methods such as design drawing or test series for new glaze recipes, a change in production and a renewal of the pottery trade took place: while in other areas of Central Europe the large pottery centres experienced a decline and numerous workshops had to give up, Thurnau's potters reinvented themselves and expanded their repertoire with handicraft products, which tapped into new groups of buyers. Five potteries are still working on the site today.
The planning of a museum was started in the late 1970s to document their products. The building of the former Latin school was already made available for this purpose by the market town of Thurnau in 1978. The driving force behind the implementation was Günther Stüdemann's wife, Luise Stüdemann. A large part of the collection comes from the possession of the couple, who spent almost half a century collecting regional pottery products, as well as written and pictorial material to document the Thurnau pottery tradition in all its diversity and expression. The museum was ceremonially opened in 1982, one year after the death of Günther Stüdemann. Luise Stüdemann managed the museum for another 12 years.
The museum was continuously expanded in several construction phases over the following decades. In 2014, the exhibition was completely revised and didactically prepared once again. A repository was built and a museum educational area including pottery workshop was set up. Today the museum covers a total area of over 600 m². In addition to government funding, the establishment and expansion of the pottery museum was supported by the Oberfrankenstiftung, the Kulmbach district, the Landesstelle für die nichtstaatlichen Museen in Munich, the Leader EU funding programme and the Verein zur Förderung des Thurnauer Töpfermuseums (Thurnau Pottery Museum), among others. The sponsorship has been taken over by the market town of Thurnau.
The Töpfermuseum Thurnau's permanent exhibition represents a cross-section of the pottery products made in Thurnau and includes the presentation of production techniques from clay extraction to the final firing, distributed over three levels. In addition to the permanent exhibition, the Töpfermuseum Thurnau presents changing special exhibitions (usually three special exhibitions per year) on various themes from the fields of art and handicrafts.