Community at the core of Carbondale Clay Center |

Community at the core of Carbondale Clay Center

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Early in June, Sarah Moore resigned from her position as co-director of the Carbondale Clay Center. Moore had put in nearly three years at the job and, with co-director K Cesark, had accomplished much of what she wanted to achieve: fixing up the Clay Center facility and its finances, and restoring a vibrancy to the place. A single mother, Moore has her two young daughters to direct. Moore, who has been a ceramist for several decades, has her own art to pursue. No longer operating the excavation company she ran with her ex-husband, Moore is looking at the next phase of her working life.

And the Clay Center kept her busy. Last week, Moore finally experienced a First Friday in Carbondale from outside the Clay Center. The Clay Center has always participated in First Fridays, drawing a big enough crowd that Moore was anchored to the place.

But soon after resigning at the Clay Center, Moore found herself volunteering for a leadership position with the Cajun Clay Night, the nonprofit organization’s signature benefit event. Moore described the process as being “roped into helping out” by Cesark (who has also resigned her position). But the truth is that Moore went along willingly, happily.

“When we resigned, we said we’re still going to be involved. We love this place and want to see it succeed,” Moore said.

Moore said among her favorite parts of the job had been organizing events. But while Cajun Clay Night has been a well-embraced gathering, Moore had yet to help organize one. A few years ago, it was decided to switch things up a bit. In 2009, the event was given an Italian theme, and the title La Dolce Vida; the following year, it went Greek with Clayopolis. Last year it morphed into Pairings, as attendees drank wine, beer and spirits out of specially made ceramic goblets.

Friday marks the return of Cajun Clay Night, with gumbo by David Stassi, an artist and cafe chef at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center; the infamous alligator cake by architect Will Young; Salud Salad by Josh Tukman, maker of Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette; a silent auction featuring art works by James Surls and Mark Cesark; a costume contest; kids events; and music by the Steve Skinner Band. And the centerpiece of the event are the bowls, 200 of them made for the event by ceramists from around the valley, including those associated with the Clay Center, Anderson Ranch and CMC’s clay program. Among those donating bowls are Cesark; Doug Casebeer, the longtime director of Anderson Ranch’s ceramics department; Betty Farson and Katie Van Alstine.

The event begins at 6 p.m., but organizers expect the line to start forming early. Bowls are given out first-come, first-served, and there are plenty of Cajun Clay Night regulars who want first choice of a bowl to add to their collection.

Moore, who grew up in Wisconsin and the Bahamas, had been a ceramist since her high school years, and studied pottery at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. But her art, the functional, soda-fired pots she specialized in, was mostly put off to the side as she focused on kids and business. She started getting back into ceramics with a class, taught by local artist Alleghany Meadows, in the late ’90s at the Carbondale Clay Center.

“I didn’t know Carbondale well; it was the unknown,” Moore said. “But the Center was a cool place with a really neat energy. When you come to Aspen to do the ski-bum thing, you lose sight of the arts stuff.”

A few years later, Moore began taking classes regularly at the Clay Center, including one when she was nine months pregnant. She joined the organization’s board around 2006, and when she moved from Basalt to Carbondale, in 2008, the Clay Center, a combination of community gathering spot and creative hub, became part of her everyday routine.

“It’s home away from home,” she said. “The energy there, the people, are really tight. We do Thanksgiving together. People who have been around since 1997, since the beginning, are still there.” Moore’s kids, too, have settled in, taking a class this summer in water fountain construction, and attending the events. “My kids always want to go to the events – that’s how I know we’re doing something right.”

Among Moore’s early goals as co-director was to give a major facelift to the Clay Center’s Main Street facility, while Cesark worked to boost the classes and the resident artist program. What the two found was a community just waiting to pitch in. “It’s become this thriving, energetic place that people in Carbondale get excited to go to,” she said.

Moore is satisfied that she has done her part, and left the Clay Center in a good place. This week, it was determined that Jill Oberman, former director of the Clay Center of Missoula, in Montana, would take over in Carbondale. And if Oberman needs assistance, Moore is happy to help.

“I’ll always be a willing volunteer for the Clay Center,” she said. “I’m always a phone call away.”

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