Popular Carbondale Clay Center going strong at 26 years
Want a shelf space at Carbondale Clay Center? Good luck. The wait might be three years for one of the full 26 shelves that cost $125 a month. And no spots are left in the spring ceramic sessions or independent study.
Why is the center so popular? It’s the only year-round dedicated clay studio in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Opened it 1997 and going 26 years strong, the non-profit art enclave houses two resident artists in addition to dozens of adult and children classes.
One of the very last stops as you head out of Carbondale on Main Street is this conglomerate of small buildings, an Airstream trailer, and tent in the warmer months.
The main studio has a rotating gallery of ceramic work in front, dozens of shelving units lined with ceramics in all different phases throughout the space, bench space, eight potter’s wheels, and two kiln rooms — one with four electric kilns and one dedicated to the Geil gas kiln, used for firing cone 10-glazed work.
Up to 200 students a year of all ages participate in ceramic instruction and studio time.
After-school classes are held in five- to six-week sessions and start with hand-building for ages 5 and older and wheel throwing for ages 9 up from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Family clay and play is offered on select weekends, offering a two-hour hand-building class with guided instruction.
“For me, kids clay is an incredible medium to demonstrate the intersection between art, nature and science. Clay can be a functional art, but also art for exhibition,” said Emma Martin, the program manager at the center.
Adult classes are divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced sessions that run seven to eight weeks. They are offered once a week from 9:30 a.m. to noon, and 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Kate McRaith, a former Glenwood Springs High School teacher, has found peace and tranquility at the Carbondale Clay Center. On a break between wheel classes, she was working on her plate formation.
“This is certainly my happy place,” she said. “I’m a lifelong learner and enjoy having this space to be creative and continue art education.”
Mary Lamb, another veteran educator and Carbondale resident, was all smiles on the snowy spring day as she was trying to improve her wheel skills.
“I’m in here to get better. I started last summer, and next session will be my fourth series. This is a great outlet for me, and a little less stressful than education,” said Lamb.
“There is a rotating roster of teachers, studio members and residents in the area that teach our classes,” Martin said. “It’s so fun to see studio members who took kids classes here growing up in the Valley come back and with their own children.”
Matt Eames is one of the center’s most storied employees. He applied for the studio resident technician position and began on Aug. 5, 2013. He hasn’t left. Now, nearly a decade later, he’s the studio manager.
“My role has evolved so much over the last 10 years,” he said. “We keep adding more positions, more programs and gallery exhibitions. We have quadrupled the programs since I started.”
One building isn’t enough for the Carbondale Clay Center, it turned out.
The orange building has two artists in residence. Artists apply and spend one to two years with the center studying, teaching, creating and showcasing. Gabby Gawreluk and Brian Chen are the current resident artists through this summer.
“My work is a compilation of childhood dreams and personal escapism,” Chen said. “I use the idea of form following function, in the context of biology, architecture and design, as a guideline to create. I enjoy making forms that pull the viewer’s eye with a sense of familiarity, awe and curiosity. The goal of my studio practice is to tap into a childlike wonder about something that could have been or will become.”
“I create functional and sculptural ceramics that is wheel thrown as well as constructed from slabs of clay. My work is featured in both juried and invitational shows in galleries around the nation,” said Gawreluk.
There is also a purple building with two studio spaces occupied by long-term Carbondale Clay artists.
A silver Airstream called the ArtStream Nomadic Gallery is a full retail gallery created by local ceramic artist Alleghany Meadows. Inside, Carbondale Clay Center showcases local and national ceramic artist pieces for sale.
There are varying levels of membership with perks such as early class and summer registration, studio time and other benefits.
“Some community families get the membership just to be able to sign up for the summer ceramic camps. They are that popular,” said Martin.
The need for clay work expands beyond the confines of the ceramic enclave.
“We work with other non-profits such as Challenge Aspen and different recovery groups in the area,” said Martin.
“I teach an off-site class at Sopris Lodge for their memory care residents,” she said. “We have also been co-hosting free, one-off workshops with Aspen Strong to promote ceramics as a form of mental fitness.”