Potsketch 2014: Supporting Ceramics

Tomorrow night the Clay Studio of Missoula hosts its annual Potsketch fundraiser at the University of Montana’s University Center Ballroom and this is one event you will not want to miss.

So, what exactly is a Potsketch, and why should I go?

It began with a simple concept. Executive Director at the time Jayson Lawford needed to find a way to raise money for the Clay Studio of Missoula. Realizing the benefits that artists receive from this organization and others like it, he reached out to fellow artists. He sent as many artists as he could a 5” x 5” square of Italian paper and a pencil. He asked them to create a work of art to help benefit the Clay Studio of Missoula, taking as little or as much time as they could offer and working with whatever materials they felt comfortable with. The response was overwhelming, pushing the Clay Studio closer to serving even more artists with new space and equipment that would attract ceramic artists from around the world.

It has been ten years since the initial Potsketch and the event has only grown. Tomorrow night’s auction features over 100 works of art by artists from every discipline and from around the world. The Discount Quartet will be entertaining attendees and you can even get a head start on bidding at the Clay Studio of Missoula’s website.

But if you think that this event is impressive, you should take a look at their day to day operations. Nationally and internationally recognized artists come regularly for residencies, and thanks to the Clay Studio students and emerging artists have unique opportunities to learn new techniques, different customs, and to become part of a global creative community.

Global though their reach may be, the Clay Studio of Missoula has a distinctly local focus. Partnering with AmeriCorps and the University of Montana, the studio provides real world non-profit experience to students. In addition to this the Clay Studio has a focus on education, offering a plethora of workshops throughout the year as well as partnering with nearby Lowell School to provide professional art instruction to elementary school students – a luxury previously available only once every five weeks to these students. The educational benefits of the Clay Studio of Missoula extend into the professional level as well, through their support of emerging ceramic artists.

Perry Haas - "Moon Jar"

This is a much needed resource, because ceramics, as studio manager Lee Stuurmans puts it, “is a cruel mistress”. The ceramic artist is expected to master the physics of wet clay spinning on a wheel, the chemistry of the glaze – if you’ve ever worked with ceramic glaze you’ll know that blue is red, red is green, and nothing is as it seems, and finally he or she must pass the trial by fire of the kiln – where all ceramic artists are judged. Once in the kiln your work of art may come out with a different texture than you expected, it may come out full of cracks and air bubbles, or it might just explode in the kiln taking your fellow artists’ labors with it in a fiery rain of clay and disappointment.

The Clay Studio of Missoula is an invaluable resource to serious emerging ceramic artists. The guidance and knowledge of world renowned artists alone would be enough reason to support this organization, but the Clay Studio does so much more for our artists.

A potter’s wheel, a mediocre kiln not large enough to work seriously, and a steady supply of clay could bankrupt an emerging artist before they even have an opportunity to find their voice and aesthetic as an artist. All artists – and particularly ceramicists – need access to the right materials and equipment, and they need to have the room to make mistakes in order to succeed. The Clay Studio offers affordable 24 hour access to materials and equipment including an 8-ton soda kiln and the rare opportunity to work with a traditional Japanese, wood-fired anagama kiln.

If you’re not sure that ceramic art is all that important, consider this: It lasts forever. As John F. Kennedy once said, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” We are still finding ceramic works of art from thousands of years ago. When we’re gone, 5,000 years from now we will be identified by what remains – plastic and ceramics. The more art we encourage in this form, the less the McDonald’s to go cup comes to represent our society.

So if you believe in the importance of art education, if you don’t want your next mug to be made in China, and you want to “contribute to the human spirit”, then consider lending your support to the Clay Studio of Missoula.

Potsketch 2014 will be held on Saturday April 26 from 6 pm to 10 pm in the University Center Ballroom on the University of Montana Campus. Tickets are available online.