The doors to the Carbondale Clay Center opened 25 years ago, and from the beginning it’s been a creative space for this mountain community and connected ceramicists from other parts of the world with its workshops and artists-in-residency programming.
“That end of the street, for years, was the ‘dark end of the street,’” as the Wilson Picket song goes, Clay Center founder Diane Kenney chuckled. “It did bring life to that end of Main Street,” even though it took a few more years to get a streetlight — and the Christmas light decorations — to that end of Main.
The creation and upkeep of the center has not always been easy, including moving in its (at the time, top-of-the-line) Geil kiln that would not fit through the door. But, ingenuity and community have kept the ship at sail, and Kenney recalls Bill Bullard using a crane to plop the kiln in place, where it still stands today.
It’s taken the type of dedication to rise from bed at 2 a.m. on a rainy night, and drive down the Crystal River Road to ensure the kiln is properly covered. Or the love of a supportive life-partner to come with. “There are a lot of things, I have to say, that John McCormick was part of,” when it came to the Clay Center, Kenney said of her late husband.
She recalls a piece of advice she once received from George Stranahan when first pitching for funding. He told her to write down her vision for the center — where she’d like to see it 10 years from its inception. “That was really a good thing to ask me to do,” Kenney said.
The vision she shared was for the center to be a “grassroots, community organization.” To which George’s reply was, “You just said my three favorite words.”
The vision came into focus over the years and today, Kenney says the Clay Center is soaring.
Until the end of September, folks can catch “Diane Kenney Retrospective” — the Clay Center’s current exhibit — with her works spanning the years on one wall and her more recent line on the opposite side. It’s Kenney’s second solo show at the Clay Center.
When it comes to her creative process, the potter tends to let the clay lead the way. “It’s more of an attitude toward the clay, and the material probably defines my work more than a specific way of making a product,” she explained.
“I wanted it to look like it was handmade,” she reflected. “I wanted to show that it’s been touched and how tactile this material is.”
Kenney began making the new pieces in 2019, when her husband was still with us. “And, I didn’t get to finish them until the invitation for this show,” she said. “It was a big step for me.”
She admitted, “If I hadn’t had this show, I might have finished those, but I’m not sure.”
The recent pieces share a resemblance. She layered a coat of black glaze, then white, and spritely colored the etched designs mimicking nature and some with “soul-feeding” quotes.
Anyone who has one of the artist’s pieces will find “DK” inscribed inconspicuously somewhere on its surface.
The Clay Center, along with Carbondale, is growing. So much so, that the time has come for the facility to grow along with it. Whether that change occurs at its current location or elsewhere in Carbondale is still spinning on the figurative wheel.
Executive Director Angela Bruno shared that there were 151 people on its waitlist for programming this summer, and at any given time between 25 and 30 artists are waiting in line for shelf and studio space.
The Clay Center would also love to provide affordable housing opportunities for its artists in residence. Today, resident artists have to sort that component out themselves, albeit with supporters rallying to help make do.
“It’s for the community,” Bruno said of the prospective expansion. “We’re listening, and we hear the demand and the need. It’s for the community. It’s for the next 25 years and beyond.”
Settings: Silver Jubilee
On Saturday, Sept. 17, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Clay Center will host “Settings: Silver Jubilee” where guests will dine on handmade dishes they can take home at the end of the evening. It will be a convergence of the center’s history, its present and what’s to come, with speeches by Kenney, Bruno and Sam Harvey — the Clay Center’s longest serving board member.
People can peruse “Diane Kenney Retrospective” while Grass Patties will provide the musical entertainment for the evening. Tickets are available at www.carbondaleclay.org