Building a Community of Clay: Denver Potters Take the Wheel

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You wouldn’t think pottery, an art form generally considered relaxing and peaceful, is so stressful. But many potters say Denver isn’t a beginner-friendly city, and a number of artists are working to change that.

Roxane Ambrose will open her own pottery workshop, Community clayat Congress Park on September 1. Ambrose says she struggled to find a good membership-based studio to join after moving to Denver in March 2019.

“There weren’t really any pottery workshops where they had memberships and I could go and be part of a community,” she recalls. “I applied to the Colorado Potters Guild, and the cost was enormous. I want a place where I can make friends and be part of a community of like-minded artists, where we can do things together.”

Ambrose wants his space to be “Denver’s friendliest pottery studio,” where beginners can come in and learn, there are no wrong questions, and everyone can support each other on artistic journeys.

She made the decision in April to open the studio after being so isolated in her craft throughout COVID. “I’m really excited that it’s a place to bring people together,” she says. “I want it to be a community, and I want the building to be part of the community.”

His studio will offer introductory casting lessons, one-on-one private lessons, free studio time, and monthly and annual subscriptions. Ambrose is still looking for teachers for his classes and hopes more will apply once the studio opens. The studio will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week for members (prices to be determined). Non-members will also be able to book two hours of open studio.

Ambrose isn’t the only one who sees something missing in Denver’s pottery scene. City mud, which will open in August, has a similar origin story. Co-owner Emily Fritze was also looking for a place for a pottery subscription, without much luck. She and her co-owner Kyle Sayre decided to open city mud, a 24-hour studio where beginners and experts can work on their art. In its inaugural newsletter, city mud explains, “While there are some really great pottery studios in Denver, most classes are so full that it’s really hard to get into one, and find a studio membership. where you can cast solo is next to impossible. We really want to change that.

Fritze and Sayre decided to open the city mud about a year ago. “The first few months of business planning was just scouting out all the pottery studios we could easily find on the internet from here in Boulder, just to figure out what they were offering, if classes were full – all the different logistics “Sayre says.

The two note that there’s huge demand for the craft right now: One owner recently reported that classes at his studio were filling up in just over a minute after going live.

City Mud will include 24/7 access to the studio for members, who will have their own access key to the space so they can come and go whenever they want. Memberships will cost $175 per month, and the city mud will also offer a six-week beginner’s course for $295. “We strongly encourage beginners to come to our studio,” says Sayre.

Mary Mackey, owner of the Urban Mud gallery in Santa Fe, agrees there’s a lack of space for beginning potters. “There’s a huge, huge need in Denver,” she said. “I just don’t have room for the classes people need.” Mackey says people often struggle to find a place to start, and while Urban Mud offers subscriptions, his studio — like the majority of studios here — is more geared toward professionals. A one-month membership ($275) gives members 24/7 access to the studio, as well as social events and studio screenings.

Cindy Vinson is a member of Castle Clay Artists and a former pottery teacher at Community College of Aurora. Castle Clay is a studio that offers membership to experienced potters and also hosts the Denver Potters Association Show, a semi-annual market for a variety of artists to showcase and sell their work.

Vinson cites the lack of instructors as a barrier for beginning potters.

“[Castle Clay Artists] isn’t private, but there’s no one here to teach anybody,” Vinson says. “We give advice and guide the use of the oven, but people have to come with experience. There is a [lack] space for beginners, of course.”

And according to Shelley Schreiber, who will be opening Continuum Art Studios in Englewood with Peter Durst in the coming months, it’s not just beginners who need more space. Continuum will be open to experienced potters who need a dedicated workspace. Schreiber says that in her experience, open studio space is limited in Denver, so in 2020 she decided to open her own.

“What [Continuum] was trying to address was the need for workspace, but also to technically support people,” she says. “It won’t be for teaching, except for a few workshops.

During this time, the Colorado Potters Guild requires an initiation fee of $900 which can be paid over twelve months, plus a monthly membership fee of $75, according to the Guild. The Potters’ Guild has only forty members, and one of them must leave or be deceased for a slot to open up. Anyone wishing to become a member must complete an extensive written form application and an interview before a jury votes on acceptance. The Guild accepts applications on an ongoing basis, but applicants are added to a waiting list which is reviewed when a space becomes available. Five new members were accepted last January.

According to its website, the Guild is also “not equipped to accept the novice potter”.
Derek Redding, owner of Studio and Gallery streams, seeks to activate the pottery scene in Denver for beginners and experts alike. Flux offers a variety of courses for beginner potters, including a six-week introductory wheel course – although this course is at capacity and has a waiting list. Flux also offers private lessons and shadow sessions, which range from $150 to $750.

Additionally, Flux hosts several pottery pop-up events each year to boost community interest. The next will take place at the grounds of Flux Studio and Eron Johnson Antiques, 377 South Lipan Street, July 8-9, and will feature the work of local and national potters such as Kazu Oba, a Boulder potter who makes a pot-throwing demonstration. There will also be live raku firing, a process in which a piece is removed from the kiln while still red-hot, then placed in a combustible material to keep oxygen out of it, creating a variety of colors in the glaze. The pop-up, which will also include live music, is free and open to the public.
Redding is satisfied which Ambrose, a former Flux Studio employee, does, because there aren’t many studios in Denver that offer subscriptions like hers.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he says. “I wish everyone good luck, of course.”

Stream Studio Pottery Pop-Up and Throwdown, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 8-9, 377 South Lipan Street. Community Clay opens September 1 at 2625 East 12th Avenue; Urban Mud is at 530 Santa Fe Drive; Castle Clay Artists is at 5333 38th Avenue.

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