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A tale of COVID and clay

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According to Angela Bruno, Carbondale Clay Center’s Executive Director, “Things are going well,” and considering the impact that COVID-19 has had on businesses and educational entities in Carbondale, that’s remarkable.

Carbondale Clay Center is in its 23rd year of existence, and Bruno says the Clay Center is already serving the second generation of some families in the community: They have adults now that took classes at the Clay Center when they were little kids. 

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I looked at the Clay Center’s class offerings online and saw only one remaining space for anyone interested in taking any of their classes. I asked Bruno about only having room for one more and she replied, “I think that class is also full.” She went on to say that “Things are going really well. We had to close from March 15 through June 1. There was so much uncertainty and alarm. You know – everybody went through it. We ended up running our spring session during the summer, but with modifications to the class sizes so we could adhere to the social distancing restrictions. The classes went for eight weeks without a hitch. We were really pleased and surprised.” 

The Carbondale Clay Center’s mission statement says that they “exist to enrich lives through the ceramic arts,” and after touring the studio, the Artist in Residence exhibit, and the hundreds of ceramic offerings in The ArtStream trailer, it’s apparent that the Clay Center is living up to their mission statement. The Clay Center also continues to offer classes and sponsor fund-raising events that are bound to interest anyone that appreciates one-of-a-kind artwork.

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Bruno pointed out that Clay Center fund-raisers are a big part of their programming. This year, their Fall Fundraiser will be ‘going virtual.’ The fundraiser will run Oct. 23 to Nov. 1, and it will be called “Settings – Limited Edition.” The event will feature collaboratively-created table settings. The idea was inspired by the collaborative efforts of everyone in Carbondale that worked on getting the Main Street corridor closed off, arranging the placement of the street-side tables, and the creating the street murals. Bruno thought “How cool would it be to have a set of plates made by a great local potter and painted by a local artist?” Steven Colby and Stanley Bell, who did the work on Main Street’s mural, will both be working on the place setting designs.

Photos of the settings will be available for viewing at Batch and Alegria, and then the creations will go up for auction online. “So, it’s different,” Bruno noted, “and hopefully it will still generate some excitement. We’re actually looking forward to the national aspect of the online auction – I’ll be able to promote these more – it’s an opportunity to reach people on the national level, so they can see what we’re doing here in Carbondale.”

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Bruno was particularly pleased with the Center’s new summertime “Family Clay Play” program, where the parents would come work with their kids, while the instructor remained at a safe distance. Bruno says, “The summers are so fast and exciting, and the kids are all over… It’s fun and messy, and it’s the best! Kids can come and get dirty, and make these cool things, and hose each other off afterwards! It’s a totally different atmosphere here in the summer.” 

Passersby on Main Street have undoubtedly noticed the aforementioned AirStream trailer in the front yard of the Clay Center. The trailer is now known as The ArtStream and it serves as a travelling gallery that sells ceramic works that both capture the imagination and please the eye.  NCECA (The National Council on Educational Ceramic Arts), which is a large ceramic conference that takes place once a year, is one of the stops for The ArtStream when it’s on the road. Bruno says that “It’s a pretty big honor to be able to show your work there. Allegheny (the owner) has let us borrow the ArtStream this year to use as a pop-up gallery, and it has been a God-send. This is a great place to come and be a ceramic artist.”

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I asked where the clay that Carbondale Clay Center uses comes from, and I was told that it comes from Minnesota. When asked if the clay varies in quality, Bruno replied that “The color can be different, but there’s no better or worse clay. Some people around here like to find their own clay. They are the purists. A former board president likes to make his own glaze from soils he finds here in the Valley. He calls it ‘Roaring Fork Red,’ and it’s beautiful!” I asked if an artist’s search for perfect clay introduced a spiritual element to the process, and Bruno said that it does. 

Then, I asked staff member Matthew Eames, the Gallery & Studio Manager, to describe the general experience of working in a tactile medium like clay, and he offered that when he works with clay, it is therapeutic in nature. He said, “When you’re sitting at a wheel with the spinning motion, you become ‘locked in’ – you create a rhythm within yourself. I really find that clay can be so expressive in that way, so visceral and physical, and that action is both relieving and fascinating.” Matthew freely admits that he has fallen in love with the clay medium, and he encourages more people to try it. 

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Savanna LaBauve, the Clay Center’s Programming and Marketing Manager, offered that there is something meditative about working with clay. “It makes you slow down, and It’s really responsive to your touch.” 

Bruno added that her appreciation for clay is also the functional element that you don’t really get with two-dimensional pieces, and that she feels we interact with three-dimensional objects on a more intimate level. I know that to be true, based on always reaching for my favorite coffee cup.

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