Forty-two people attended a demonstration of clay hand-building techniques led by longtime local potter Sarah Scholfield at the Newport Visual Arts Center’s new pottery studio earlier this month.
“I got a great sense of people’s desire to learn from each other,” said Chasse Davidson, VAC director. The VAC pottery studio sponsored the event, which was organized by the newly formed Pacific Pottery Guild.
“We have the momentum to build the guild, and we have the venue at the VAC to host its workshops and gather together,” said Davidson, a potter in her own right.
“A big goal for the new studio has been to build a clay community,” she said. “I try to provide opportunities for the guild and be a support system for the clay community. I got so emotional after Sarah’s program because I could see a definite interest in moving in that direction.”
Indeed, while right now the studio is not outfitted with pottery wheels, the day after Schofield’s program, the studio received one as a donation. “I’m starting to think what the studio would look like with four wheels,” Davidson said.
Many years ago, the Yaquina Art Association had a clay studio at the VAC, but it has been gone for years. Davidson, who operated Clayworks in Toledo before the COVID pandemic forced her to shut it down, was invited to join a steering committee at the VAC to reestablish a clay studio. The group met via Zoom, and a clay exhibit was hosted at the VAC. Davidson taught there starting in the spring of 2022, until being hired as VAC director in August of that year.
“The clay studio went dormant for a while because no one else was teaching,” she said. Davidson is working on ways to bring instruction back to the studio, and has been talking with former students who can work independently, to gauge their interest in coming aboard to teach.
She also will be looking to mentor a youth, either in high school or community college, as a clay studio technician.
Part of her vision for the studio is to find teachers who can host workshops, rather than multi-session classes, as a way to encourage more students. And her immediate goal is to have people who are familiar with working in clay become established at the VAC.
“I’m trying to make the most of my knowledge base to provide the most use of the VAC,“ she said. “Even if I’m not teaching, I can assist in the studio, such as loading the kiln.
“I’m also trying to concentrate on my role in supporting artists through the sale of their work,” she said, citing artist receptions, complete with food and music, as one way to encourage people to come into the building and see the artists’ work, both in process and on exhibit.
“I want people to think of the VAC as a place for teaching,” Davidson said. “Part of our goal is to bring in art in process as a major element at the VAC. We have a lot of art on display in our gallery spaces; now we’re trying to use our other spaces for making art.
“The eventual goal of the clay studio is that when the building is open, people are using it to make things,” she explained.
To that end, she is using the COVAS — Coastal Oregon Visual Arts Showcase — gallery space to highlight claywork for the next few months.
The COVAS gallery at the arts center is “clay-centric” right now, Davidson said, noting it is directly across from the pottery studio and is another way to get the community involved with the studio.
She would like exhibiting clay artists to offer demonstrations, “another opportunity for the artist to connect with the community and share their process in a hands-on way,” Davidson said.
“I’m using COVAS as an opportunity to get the community involved with the studio,” she said. “That helps the VAC offer educational opportunities together with ceramic artists, helping to support the VAC and the building of the clay studio and getting people familiar with our spaces.”
Davidson said she showed her wheel-thrown functional pottery along with work by several other artists, with the Art on the Edge studio tour last May. As part of the tour they demonstrated different aspects of their techniques at the VAC.
Another goal is to have the VAC become a clay distributor, saving clay artists from having to drive to Portland or Eugene to get their raw material. Davidson has been working with a ceramic supply distributor to set pricing and schedules to make this possible.
“My goal is that we would bring in enough clay to provide for the needs of our local potters, who could go to the VAC for their supplies,” she said. And achieving that goal is right on the horizon, she noted.
“As long as we offer a clay experience, this will work,” she said. “We have an incredible view here and are in a central location. Clay people will come.”
Since the closure of Clayworks during the pandemic, Davidson has been looking for ways to keep clay artists together and finds the guild a likely way to do that. “So many local people want to engage in a group that works together to promote what they create,” she said.
“I decided early on that I don’t want to just talk but instead want our gatherings to be about process,” Davidson said of the guild.
In keeping with the studio goals, Rasa Clay Works of Yachats will present a wheel throwing demonstration in the big classroom Feb. 4 in conjunction with the opening reception for the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts (OCCA) members show. Also opening that day is “Enduring Esthetic: The Art of Rasa Clay Works” in the COVAS gallery. That exhibit will run through March 25.
Meanwhile, potter Liz Fox of Toledo has been showing a collection of embellishment techniques on sample clay tiles in her “Exploring Form and Surface” exhibit in COVAS. She will be donating her tiles to the clay studio to be used as inspiration and teaching references. Her exhibit runs through Jan. 28.
And the studio vision also includes encouraging more people to work with clay. Jason Holland, executive director of OCCA, said he’s excited over how Davidson is bringing the pottery studio to life. “We’re lucky to have her — she’s the perfect person with her background,” he said. “And I’m excited to see the studio be even more active for folks who want to learn about pottery. We’re interested in attracting people with all levels of experience, including with no experience.”
Holland said he took a sculpture class last year — wanting to do something he had not done before — and he entered his sculpture in the current Push Pin show at the VAC. And he will be taking a class in clay masks with Arlon Gilliland next month. .
“I look forward to trying new things,” he said. “There’s the perception that you need talent as an artist, but I don’t believe that. It takes practice.
“I hope people feel invited and welcome to take a class, even without any experience,” he added. “It’s all about practice, and I try to remind myself about that as well.”
For more information about the clay studio at the VAC, contact Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-265-6569 or 541-265-6540. More information about Pacific Pottery Guild can be found at pacificpotteryguild.org.
The Newport Visual Arts Center, which is managed by OCCA for the city of Newport, is at 777 NW Beach Drive at the Nye Beach turnaround.
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