Clay Art Center is 60!

By Leigh Taylor Mickelson, Executive Director, Clay Art Center

As we launch our celebration of our 60th anniversary today, I want to share with you a concept I just learned about -“Kanreki.” In Japan, “Kanreki” is a 60-year landmark and an opportunity to start over;  it means “re-birth,” or the chance at a second childhood.   I thought this was quite fascinating considering where Clay Art Center is right now – we are at a time in our organization that has us re-envisioning our future and imagining the next 60 years and beyond. A “re-birth” that builds on our strong foundation and rich legacy is quite an attractive metaphor for the work ahead of us in the next few years. 

 Clay Art Center Staff is ready to celebrate!

Clay Art Center Staff is ready to celebrate!

We will embrace 2017 with two goals – recognizing and applauding all that we have accomplished in the past 60 years; and launching the 60th Anniversary Fund for the Future, to help us grow into an even stronger and more dynamic center.  And to top it off, we have a BRAND NEW WEBSITE, and you can see it for the first time TODAY! I can’t help but feel that this website, built mostly by volunteers, marks a new era for us!  Please browse through, and keep an eye out for an email about all of its new features, including an e-commerce section where you can purchase one-of-a-kind handmade works from our SHOP.

But first, we must celebrate!  For our 60th anniversary, we have planned a series of compelling exhibitions, educational programs and events that honor our past, present and future, with clay at the heart of it all. While planning for this year, we have been having a great time digging into Clay Art Center’s archives.  Personally, I have been trying to put myself into the shoes of our founders and early members, trying to capture what it was like to be a ceramic artist here in 1957. What compelled Katherine Choy to leave an assistant professorship position at Tulane University to come to Port Chester and create a place with “the idea of setting up a cooperative studio to encourage young potters in advanced study of Ceramic Arts?”  What was daily life like at the Center under Henry Okamoto’s leadership, and how did it change with each succession?

 Katherine Choy, circa 1957, Photograph by Jack Robinson, www.robinsonarchive.com

Katherine Choy, circa 1957, Photograph by Jack Robinson, www.robinsonarchive.com

 Henry Okamoto, circa 1980

Henry Okamoto, circa 1980

Our opening exhibition and its accompanying panel discussion might answer some of my questions. REWIND, curated by director emeritus Reena Kashyap, will open on Sunday, January 29th at 3pm, and will be a multi-textured exhibit that chronicles our history.  Work by seventy artists will be featured, along with their heartfelt stories and other memorabilia.  You will learn how Clay Art Center shaped its artists over the years and how those artists in turn shaped Clay Art Center into the place it is today.  Then, on February 12th, we are bringing together 4 past artists who were at Clay Art Center in the early years to share their stories and reflect on legacy and what that means for each of them.   Hosted by Reena, I expect this panel discussion will be an enlightening, meaningful and heartwarming  afternoon.

Subsequent exhibitions will continue to explore some of the “goings-on” here over the years.  REVISIT: The Boneyard will bring back dozens of artists who have led  workshops here in the past, and they will exhibit recent work next to a bisque piece they made while they were here.  It is quite a star-studded line up!  Ron Meyers, Pete Pinnell and Bryan Czibez will be in the house, among others. Then, I am happy to be curating an exhibition this year too. REDUX: Transformations 6x6 is a reiteration of one of my favorite exhibitions from 2008 (when I was the Program Director) which presented 600 tiles by 172 artists from across the country.  It was a visual treat back then, and I am certain it will be this summer as well.

We are also using this year as a time to look forward.  Our culminating exhibition takes us into the digital age with REINVENTED: Future Now, curated by Program Manager Adam Chau and featuring artists who combine digital technology with traditional hand techniques.  This exhibit will travel to The Clay Studio in Philadelphia in 2018!

The year is also marked with several fabulous workshops, programs, events and other surprises.  Plus a new logo!  And we are bringing back Spring Fest this year, after a year’s hiatus.  Mark your calendars now for Saturday, June 3rd to enjoy a huge pottery sale, hands on clay activities and much more! 

And, to help us move forward, we are launching the Fund For the Future. On the heels of a generous Regional Economic Development grant from the New York State Arts Council, we have begun the process of envisioning our next 60 years. While this grant is significant, it is only the beginning. We are developing an Arts and Culture Master Plan, and working toward becoming an arts destination in the Hudson Valley, drawing makers, collectors and art lovers from all over the country…and the world. Our goal this year is to raise an additional $60,000 above and beyond our usual funding to help with acquire the professional expertise we need to develop this plan and lay out our next steps. We hope you will consider partnering with us as we design the future of Clay Art Center.

Thank you all for the past 60 years at Clay Art Center, and I look forward to launching our next 60 with you, starting today!