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American Craft Magazine October/November 2010

Baltimore Clayworks at 30

Wood Kiln at Balitmore Clayworks.
Photo gallery (2 images)

In 1978, nine ceramists—potters and sculptors—in the Baltimore area sought to establish a center for artists, students and the public to experience and learn about clay, a collective space to work in, teach and exhibit. The group’s formulation of their vision to representatives from a city planning agency earned them the use of a historic library building in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore, and after a renovation of the building to their purposes, the nonprofit Baltimore Clayworks opened its doors in November 1980. Twenty years later, a donated 1880s stone building across the street called the Provincial House was inaugurated as Clayworks’ gallery space.

Five years ago, an addition and renovation to the original building resulted in a state-of-the-art studio facility. The mission of Baltimore Clayworks as it has evolved over 30 years “is to develop, nurture, sustain and promote an artist-centered community that provides outstanding educational, artistic and collaborative programs in the ceramic arts.”

To attract participation by accomplished national and international artists, the center provides affordable studio space, equipment and professional opportunities, including a yearlong fellowship for an emerging artist. There are currently 13 resident artists, including Ronni Aronin, who was one of the founders. The cherished aim of exhibiting is sustained by an ambitious program of on- and off-site solo or group shows of outstanding ceramic artists.

The center offers studio classes—50 a year, held during three semesters—in all aspects of pottery, clay sculpture and ceramic processes for children and adults. And in its commitment to outreach, Clayworks supports collaborative endeavors between artists and community organizations to bring art experiences to children and adults in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Baltimore.

In an informal online video presentation celebrating the 30th anniversary, Deborah Bedwell, executive director of Clayworks and a member of the founding cadre, pointed to two qualities that distinguishes the place: the emphasis on artistic excellence and the warmth of personal relationships. “We make sure that people who come in the door feel welcome and part of this community.” The special quality of the organization has been noted outside the ceramics field. “Baltimore Clayworks is the ideal of what a community organization run by crafts artists and providing the opportunity to work, learn and earn for themselves as well as other craft artists should look like,” says metalsmith David Bacharach, a former American Craft Council trustee. “Implicit in Clayworks’ success is the fact that this artist-based community has been able to involve artist and non-artist alike in embracing its original mission.”

Among the many events marking the anniversary have been “Roots and Wings,” a show of work by Clayworks’ founders; “Fellowship Show: Haejung Lee,” featuring the Korean artist holding the Lormina Salter Fellowship for 2009- 10; “Encore!” focused on past exhibiting artists; and “Body and Soul,” figurative ceramics juried by Arthur Gonzalez (Oct. 2-Nov. 13). Moving into next year, the culminating event is “Transcending Integration: African Contemporary Ceramics Exhibition” (Mar. 5-Apr. 16, 2011). As Bedwell concludes, “The good old days are yet to come.”

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