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December 15, 2005

Art Beat

Community Built on Clay

by KATHERINE ALMY


 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about the Fire Arts Foundry. The Foundry is down on South G Street in Arcata, tucked behind a building that houses the Fire Arts Center. Which makes one scratch one's head and wonder -- what's the difference and what's the connection? They are actually two separate businesses: The Foundry does metal work and the Fire Arts Center does clay and glass. But there is a connection, of course.

Peter Brant, who owns the land and the Foundry, is also a potter and was a part of the group of people who, several years ago, were dreaming of a cooperative workspace that would allow them to manage the expense involved in playing with clay. Peter bought the land, but really needed a good tenant to help with costs, so he invited the clay group to rent space from him. Thus, they have the same location and similar names, but are indeed two separate entities -- separate, but with a symbiotic relationship, sharing expenses, resources and creative energy.

The concept of shared resources is also the driving force behind the Fire Arts Center itself. Messing about with clay can be child's play, and probably satisfies the child in those who are so drawn to it. But the expenses of producing ceramic work require feet firmly planted in the realities of economics. Many artists graduating from college are frustrated to find that while they no longer have access to the facilities on campus, they cannot afford their own equipment. And until about seven years ago there was no place they could go to fire their work.

The Fire Arts Center was meant to address that need. By putting their resources together and incorporating, a handful of people were able to purchase the equipment needed, run it and maintain it. The Center employs two people: a director, Elizabeth Johnson, and a technician who handles all of the firing, the process that turns soft clay into sturdy, waterproof ceramic.

The Fire Arts Center is not primarily in the business of selling clay works. It does have a holiday sale (just last weekend, I hope you made it there), and two "seconds" sales. It can also hook you up with an artist if you're interested in a custom order. But the organization primarily serves two purposes: It runs classes open to the community and it provides memberships to those who want to have access to all of that expensive equipment.

The classes cover wheel throwing (for the uninitiated, this is the term for making a clay bowl or vase on a spinning wheel), handbuilding techniques, raku firing and sculpting, to name a few. There are special classes for kids, and they also have a series of classes in glasswork. "Intro to Glass Fusing & Slumping" (which has nothing to do with posture), "Glass Bead Making," "Borosilicate Glass Lampworking" -- sounds pretty high tech! Classes are filling up for January, so give them a call if any of these sound interesting to you.

Once you've taken a few classes, you'll probably be hooked for life and then you'll need to have ready access to a kiln, a throwing wheel and a large space that will always be messier then you want your home to be. You'll be happy to discover that for a monthly fee, the Fire Arts Center is yours (to share with 20 - 30 other clay addicts, of course).

There's something else that comes with membership, and that's harder to define. It's the sense of community that comes with a shared passion. While art is often considered a solitary thing, nothing is created in a vacuum. Quiet contemplation is a part of creating, but the ideas come from sharing with others. Learning and growing in a field is also best done in an atmosphere where ideas can be tossed around with others, questions can be asked and tips exchanged. All of the members I spoke to talked about the sense of community they found there, and Elizabeth Johnson says it's one of the most important aspects of the Center.

I talked with her about "community" and the lack of it in our society. I don't think I really even understood the concept until I came to Humboldt County. I grew up in suburban Southern California in a neighborhood dominated by lengths of cinderblock walls cutting houses and people off from each other. I have never felt a sense of connection to the place where I grew up, although I suppose maybe some people do. For myself, community needs to be a place where I can get to know people and where each person is unique. The sameness that comes from big-box stores and chains doesn't feel like community to me -- it feels stifling. Community requires the individual expression of its members, and that's where the arts come into it. The Fire Arts Center is one place (of many around here, happily) where that individual expression is encouraged and the skills necessary for it are honed.

On the practical side, the Fire Arts Center works because of the sharing of resources and expenses. On the magical side, it works because the members have a relationship with each other; there is a sense of belonging and a shared desire to create. I'm sure it's not always as poetic as that -- there must be arguments, gripes and clashes of personality, but overall it seems to be a place that is indispensable to those who frequent it. As one member put it, "We'd be lost without this facility."

The Fire Art Center is located at 520 S. G Street in Arcata, 826-1445.

Got an exhibit or art event you think would make a good story? Send your art news to almy@arcatanet.com or write in care of the Journal at 145 G Street, Suite A, Arcata 95521.Community Built on Clay

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about the Fire Arts Foundry. The Foundry is down on South G Street in Arcata, tucked behind a building that houses the Fire Arts Center. Which makes one scratch one's head and wonder -- what's the difference and what's the connection? They are actually two separate businesses: The Foundry does metal work and the Fire Arts Center does clay and glass. But there is a connection, of course.

Peter Brant, who owns the land and the Foundry, is also a potter and was a part of the group of people who, several years ago, were dreaming of a cooperative workspace that would allow them to manage the expense involved in playing with clay. Peter bought the land, but really needed a good tenant to help with costs, so he invited the clay group to rent space from him. Thus, they have the same location and similar names, but are indeed two separate entities -- separate, but with a symbiotic relationship, sharing expenses, resources and creative energy.

The concept of shared resources is also the driving force behind the Fire Arts Center itself. Messing about with clay can be child's play, and probably satisfies the child in those who are so drawn to it. But the expenses of producing ceramic work require feet firmly planted in the realities of economics. Many artists graduating from college are frustrated to find that while they no longer have access to the facilities on campus, they cannot afford their own equipment. And until about seven years ago there was no place they could go to fire their work.

The Fire Arts Center was meant to address that need. By putting their resources together and incorporating, a handful of people were able to purchase the equipment needed, run it and maintain it. The Center employs two people: a director, Elizabeth Johnson, and a technician who handles all of the firing, the process that turns soft clay into sturdy, waterproof ceramic.

The Fire Arts Center is not primarily in the business of selling clay works. It does have a holiday sale (just last weekend, I hope you made it there), and two "seconds" sales. It can also hook you up with an artist if you're interested in a custom order. But the organization primarily serves two purposes: It runs classes open to the community and it provides memberships to those who want to have access to all of that expensive equipment.

The classes cover wheel throwing (for the uninitiated, this is the term for making a clay bowl or vase on a spinning wheel), handbuilding techniques, raku firing and sculpting, to name a few. There are special classes for kids, and they also have a series of classes in glasswork. "Intro to Glass Fusing & Slumping" (which has nothing to do with posture), "Glass Bead Making," "Borosilicate Glass Lampworking" -- sounds pretty high tech! Classes are filling up for January, so give them a call if any of these sound interesting to you.

Once you've taken a few classes, you'll probably be hooked for life and then you'll need to have ready access to a kiln, a throwing wheel and a large space that will always be messier then you want your home to be. You'll be happy to discover that for a monthly fee, the Fire Arts Center is yours (to share with 20 - 30 other clay addicts, of course).

There's something else that comes with membership, and that's harder to define. It's the sense of community that comes with a shared passion. While art is often considered a solitary thing, nothing is created in a vacuum. Quiet contemplation is a part of creating, but the ideas come from sharing with others. Learning and growing in a field is also best done in an atmosphere where ideas can be tossed around with others, questions can be asked and tips exchanged. All of the members I spoke to talked about the sense of community they found there, and Elizabeth Johnson says it's one of the most important aspects of the Center.

I talked with her about "community" and the lack of it in our society. I don't think I really even understood the concept until I came to Humboldt County. I grew up in suburban Southern California in a neighborhood dominated by lengths of cinderblock walls cutting houses and people off from each other. I have never felt a sense of connection to the place where I grew up, although I suppose maybe some people do. For myself, community needs to be a place where I can get to know people and where each person is unique. The sameness that comes from big-box stores and chains doesn't feel like community to me -- it feels stifling. Community requires the individual expression of its members, and that's where the arts come into it. The Fire Arts Center is one place (of many around here, happily) where that individual expression is encouraged and the skills necessary for it are honed.

On the practical side, the Fire Arts Center works because of the sharing of resources and expenses. On the magical side, it works because the members have a relationship with each other; there is a sense of belonging and a shared desire to create. I'm sure it's not always as poetic as that -- there must be arguments, gripes and clashes of personality, but overall it seems to be a place that is indispensable to those who frequent it. As one member put it, "We'd be lost without this facility."

The Fire Art Center is located at 520 S. G Street in Arcata, 826-1445.

Got a local exhibit or art event that might make a good story? Send your art news to almy@arcatanet.com or write in care of the North Coast Journal, 145 South G Street, Suite A, Arcata, CA. 95521.


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