The Clay Studio
by Mary Anna Rodabaugh
Brilliant ideas are often born out of a basic need or desire. If you think about it, many inventions were created this way. When you want or need a certain thing, you brainstorm a plan to make it or get it. After the original need is fulfilled, it can inspire a jumping off point for expansion and development. What started as a simple need eventually becomes a large and ever-changing brilliant idea.
The Clay Studio is a perfect example. Forty years ago, five artists were in need of a workspace in Philadelphia. They envisioned a ceramics studio where students fresh out of art school could practice their craft and share equipment. That vision grew to incorporate community involvement and access to ceramic arts both from an educational and exposure perspective.
Today, the Clay Studio occupies two four-story buildings at 137 and 139 North Second Street. The Studio houses individual studio spaces, an associate’s studio space, a ceramics school, and a studio shop and arts gallery.
To commemorate their 40th Anniversary, the Clay Studio is featuring an exhibit entitled, The Clay Studio: 40 Years. This exhibit contains 40 works created by current resident artists, past resident artists, past guest artists and even pieces from two of the Studio’s original founders. The exhibit collectively celebrates the vibrant diversity and extraordinary talent of all Clay Studio artists.
Past guest artist Christina West’s Untitled ceramic sculpture features a large-footed man wearing a shirt but no pants. His hair is in a ponytail as he looks over his left shoulder up at the sky. He is intricately detailed down to the folds of his shirt. What is striking about this piece are the red and purple colors, which resemble blood and bruises. The subject’s bare leg appears heavily bruised and the subject’s shirt also appears to be bleeding. The result is a shocking yet thought-provoking visual aesthetic.
Fabricated Topography: 11-13, 9-11, 06-09, by past resident artist Bryan Czibesz, triggers memories of the psychological Rorschach Test. The porcelain and mixed media pieces feature three multi-layered, inkblot-like sculptures (one clearly resembles a butterfly), each mounted on top of a nondescript topographic map. The combination of these two recognizable elements is both creative and unique.
Past resident artist Linda Lopez’s piece, Objects Made to Be Rejected, generated a lot of attention on April’s First Friday. Lopez created two large, roundish shapes, one pink and the other a pale orange. The sculptures are layered with rows and rows of small carrot-shaped fringe, reminiscent of something so familiar you just can’t put your finger on it. On top of each sculpture sits a tangled weave of interlacing metallic roots. The objects did not appear to be rejected, but rather promoted a lot of discussion among gallery visitors that evening.
Many artists, such as the renowned Kathy Butterly, who also featured a piece in this exhibit, got their start at the Clay Studio.
“The great thing about this building is there are four floors and the top floor is split for 12 young artists who can use the Clay Studio as their launching pad,” gallery curator Garth Johnson said.
The same can be said for the Studio’s Guest Artist Program.
“Artists come in from all over the world. We have an apartment and a studio. We give them materials and a kiln. There are no restrictions as to what they can create. It is a really exciting experimental place for artists to be,” Johnson said.
The Clay Studio not only serves in-house artists but also the community. The Studio offers membership programs, ceramic classes, educational workshops, and even date night events. They also run the Claymobile, a mobile arts education program which hosts ceramics workshops and events in under-served populations throughout Philadelphia.
What started as a basic need for a communal workspace eventually expanded into a brilliant idea.
The Clay Studio: 40 Years will be open until May 31st. The celebration continues with Fired Up at 40: A Party Celebrating the Clay Studio’s 40 Years, a formal gala held on Saturday, May 10th at the American Street Showroom, 2101 North American Street from 6pm-1am. Tickets are $250.00. Visit www.theclaystudio.org/support/gala.php for more information.