REWIND Oral Histories

By Adam Chau, Program Manager

Here are the oral histories of our 60 Clay Art Center artists that are participating in our REWIND exhibit.

Peter Arnow

When I came to CAC in 2001 I hadn't done anything with clay since college. CAC helped me find my way back to something I loved but also helped me become part of a wonderful community of potters. The feeling of getting reconnected to clay and having found a supportive nurturing community at the same time was incredible and it remains an important part of my life fifteen years later.

Keiko Ashida

I wanted to know about glazes in USA and I came to CAC as I thought Henry made and sell glazes but he did not. I bought my first wheel & electric from him. He was alone in his office and was eating Japanese mixed rice. He was quiet, skinny and small man but very kind and good man.
I did not know that Henry was ill and a couple of months later he passed away from stomach cancer. Elsbeth Woody re-organized the center & she asked Keiko to teach a class. There were only two classes, one taught by Elsbeth and the other one taught by me. In my first class in 1998, there were only 3 people! When they arrived for their first class, no one was there, only a mouse! I had no idea where was the material or the equipment and had to figure it all out. The classroom was upstairs and the heat did not work! The most classes I taught every week were 5 classes and had over 100 students! Elsbeth and Claudia wanted me to teach more classes but there no space.
There were several Studio Managers during my time of teaching in the early days and remembers them as Virginia Piazza, Alan Davidson, Kevin Thomas and Marc Luethold.
Later Elsbeth made several improvements to the center by changing what was a storage room into what is now the shop.

Dalia Berman
July 2001

I have seen the Clay Art Center expand it facilities and its reach without losing its sense of a community of clay artists and craftsmen who share their love and knowledge generously.
I enjoy passing through the classroom on my way to my small private studio and observe students of all ages happily focused on their clay creations.
CAC has become a magnet for clay enthusiasts through its many classes, workshops, exhibitions ,lectures, its shop, and the art projects it creates in the community.
It's the only place of its kind in the region and I am grateful for it !

Nicholas Bernard:

I was an apprentice for Don Wessel in 1975 and 76. I was a sophomore/ junior in high school. Then I was a member on and off for the rest of the 70’s.

Lots of crazy things happened back then. The neighborhood was pretty scary. One time a man set himself on fire in the parking lot. We used to have clay fights, greenware was broken when it got out of hand. I remember a teapot getting broken and Mark Fitzgerald was truly pissed. It was 40 years ago now, so lots of memories are really vague. I know I worked hard and learned a lot. I’ve been a full time studio potter since 81’ and I know the experience there was important to my early development.

Leslie Ferrin was there at the time and also a high school student. She was my first ceramics friend and we have worked together and stayed friendly over the years. There was a potter that came from Japan to visit/residency. He took a lump of clay and just threw it on the wheel, didn’t center it…. Just jammed his thumbs into it and threw this amazing pot. Somehow I got it when it was done. It sits in my studio, I see it every day. See attached pictures. There is other stuff just not for public consumption!!

Henry was a scary dude, I was just a kid and I remember him yelling at me for dry mixing a batch of clay in the dough mixer. I think he wasn’t thrilled with Don having me work for him. I recall, as I became more of a regular, he’d give me a rare smile. He was a man of very very few words.

Elizabeth Biddle

I was a member at CAC from 1990 to 2002. I had a ceramic studio in my home but I used to go to CAC to pick up clay for a few years before 1990. I loved going there and looking at the big space and equipment, it was very funky. I found out that Elsbeth Woody was giving a workshop on how to make large clay works, so I was excited to try that. I was struggling in my home studio with many technical problems so this class turned out to be exactly what I needed at the time. Elsbeth was a fabulous teacher, she shared so much and was very supportive. Soon after this workshop I joined CAC. I really loved the communal atmosphere and sharing of clay information. I fired the big Mama car kiln there which was thrilling. I was sharing the downstairs sculpture area with Elsbeth and several other sculptors: Claudia Miller, Marc Leuthold, Marilyn Richeda, Linda Kuehne, Neil Tetkowski, and Alan Cober. Alan was always up for a kick as he was venturing into a new clay career after retiring as a well known illustrator. We designed an amusing CAC tee shirt together which was great fun to do. Reena who was our new director/owner amazingly got it printed on T shirts. I shared my first clay show in the new gallery with Linda Kuehne, and began to teach there as well. I left to work in my own studio in 2002 but went back to teach in 2004 about tile making, various surface techniques, and installation work for about 4 or so years.

Myra Bowie

I found CAC in late 1998 but I think I started taking classes in 1999.   My first class was with Reenaand then I started taking classes with Georgia.   I had the honor of being asked to be a member a few years later.   

My most vivid memory is going to Peter’s Valley for the first time with a group from CAC to wood fire.   It was cold, rainy, the house we stayed in was full of mice, and I made the mistake of taking the late night shift to stoke the fire (I was too old to stay up all night and all day!). But it was an absolutely fun weekend!   And the firing hooked me on doing wood firings.   I continued to do them for years whenever I could. There is a picture I keep in my home studio of one of the CAC woodfire crews!  It makes me laugh everytime I see it. We are all so tired and cold but the pots that came out of the kiln were wonderful!

My personal memories that I carry with me from CACis how the artists that worked there during my tenure built a working breathing ceramic community that was interesting, vibrant and challenging, especially for a growing artist looking for a community of peers to learn and grow with.   I was exposed to so many different and talented ceramic artists at CAC during my tenure in workshops and in the membership.  Those experiences have stayed with me to this day.

I did not know Henry or Katherine, but their vision of an arts community always seemed to be present while I was a student/member.    

Douglas Breitbart

I was a CAC artist (my work space was in the Annex) from 2002 to 2006.

Reena hired me in 2006 as studio manager when Albert Pharr left CAC to become Greenwich House's Studio manager. I worked as studio manager at CAC until 2013 when I became studio manager of Brickhouse Ceramic Art Center in Long Island City where I live. The greatest opportunity for me was first to become a part of and then contribute to the CAC community. I made life long friendships with people who are now my CAC family. For me these relationships are what makes CAC such a special place.
My first contact with CAC was in 1980 when, just out of college, my father and I met Henry who supplied me with my potter's wheel and kiln when I was setting up my first studio. I remember him being patient and generous with his time. I rediscovered CAC in 2002 when I attended a Paula Winokur workshop there. Paula was my college ceramic professor who I hadn't seen in over 20 years. It was a very special reunion for me. I'm looking forward to 2017 when both Clay Art Center and I turn 60!

Cory Brown

In August 2011 I started year long Residency. I taught classes and did a work exchange for my firing the following fall through February when I went to India for 6 months. I came back in August of 2013 and assumed the Studio Manager position at CAC until June 2015.

I have so many vivid memories! One dramatic and exciting memory is from the Gerit Grimm 5 day workshop in January 2015, the gas furnace broke. We had about 10 space heaters trying to keep the place warm in freezing weather. The power kept going out. To be honest it was a little nerve wracking. Gerit was very cool about it and all the workshop attendees just wanted to work, so we powered through until the furnace was fixed. It is a memory of stress but also of passion and drive to do Ceramics!

Caitlin Brown

My most vivid memory of CAC is of a caring community, filled with heart. CAC saw me through the death of a spouse and falling in love with and marriage to my new husband who has been the greatest gift in my life (residency romance at CAC). CAC is filled with so many smaller communities; residents, students, artists, teachers, staff and Port Chester- and each of those grieved with me, and then celebrated. We did this for each other- through births, marriages, and deaths- the support of the communities is so strong between its members. The focus and shared experience at CAC starts with the love of clay but extends so much further. Clay is a metaphor for human life and through its teaching, creates beautiful souls. I'm not sure if clay molds those souls, or if those that need it come already open to learning, growing and sharing- either way, clay is at the heart. CAC is a microcosm like so many other centers of its kind, a focal point, a safe haven, a place to gather, a place to take risks, and above all, a place to learn. The strong women especially, who fill the walls to bursting every day, gave me new legs to stand on, and equipped me for a new life. From resident to staff member, I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned at CAC.

Julie Buyon

I first came to CAC in 2000 and began taking classes.  Have been here ever since! My most vivid memory was Reena, my then instructor, calling me at home after unloading a kiln to tell me excitedly how great my piece came out.  That spirit - that enthusiasm, caring and personal connection - exemplifies my CAC experience.  CAC is my community.


Jeanne Carreau

I've been at the Clay Art Center since 1998 and am still here; I was one of the first teachers Reena hired (Harriet Ross was probably the first??). I knew Reena from Hudson River Potters since 1985; we had meetings at the Clay Art Center and I was very interested in teaching there. Reena and Ruth Berelson interviewed me for a teaching position in the fall of 1997 and I started in Jan. 1998. My first classes were titled "A Japanese Way with Clay" and were taught in Japanese only at first, for Japanese speaking students. They were later taught in both Japanese and English and attracted students from many backgrounds interested in learning to throw and make pots based on a Japanese aesthetic.
There are so many [memories], but one that stands out to me was the day we moved all the equipment from the old classroom (now the gallery) into the new main classroom. There were tons of people in a line passing the heavy equipment and supplies from person to person. It seemed like a daunting task because of all the stairs, but thanks to the numbers of people and their enthusiasm and energy, it was accomplished. The new space had been a long time in coming, and it was hard to believe at times that it would be ready and the move would actually happen. The first time I was directed to go look at the space to give my feedback for how it should be organized and what additional equipment would be needed, the large dog kept up there by the woodshop owner leapt out at me, barking ferociously! I immediately closed the door and ran away! So much for first impressions.....But Reena's fearless vision came to fruition, and we have a sunny, spacious classroom/studio space up there, and a spacious, flexible, and gorgeous gallery down in the main building.
I knew Henry only slightly--in the 1980's Henry sold pottery equipment. I bought a used Brent wheel and a used slab roller from him. He delivered them to my home studio and modified the wheel so that it turned clockwise instead of counter clockwise, for my use, since Brent wheels in those days were not reversible. My impression of him was of a friendly, helpful but taciturn man who got things done,  efficiently and without any complaints about hard work or dirty work.

Jennifer Cherpock

My most vivid memory was the incredible progress and improvements that occurred at CAC over the years including physical expansion, the involvement and outreach to communities and the opportunity to gain knowledge from incredible artists through workshops and classes.

John Chwekun

I have so many vivid memories to choose from, all of which took place within the twelve brief months I was there. There are far too many to mention here. Among these, I remember Reena; ALWAYS so sharp, so present, and kind to me beyond all reason. I recall how often Kelly Damron brought me to tears. I don't think I have ever laughed more, or more intensely in my life. These things matter. The fellowship I shared with these and the other wonderful people at CAC (none of whom I've forgotten) left a wonderful and mysterious mark on my life that time cannot take from me.  I am grateful.

Sarah Coble

I remember going to the Clay Art Center as a teen ager to buy clay. Henry always welcomed me and seemed to love taking the time to talk to me about pottery and to answer my many questions about clay. There always seemed to be a half build kiln next to his desk; he seemed eager to procrastinate on his huge piles of paper work by talking with me. Clay Art Center has been and continues to be a place of friendship, information and inspiration for me since I was a young woman. I have loved teaching at the Center all of these years!

Jane Cohen

Everything [is special at clay art center] kidding.  I love the facilities, the staff, the community spirit, the positive creative atmosphere, the sharing of skills and hearts, and the lifetime friendships made here.  I have found in my lifetime of being an artist that creativity doesn't thrive in a vacuum.  The CAC is my oxygen.

Andrew Coombs

I have a lot of great memories from the CAC, working with Shanna, Jon, Kristina, and Caitlin (the other AiR's) were some of the highlights - like when Jon found a giant pot plant growing with the tomatoes in the skinny garden outside the studio windows (we actually did leave it alone). My most vivid memory is the day of the opening for Kristina Stafford's solo show, because we had gotten married earlier that day in the sculpture garden in Purchase at the PepsiCo world headquarters.


There is a sign that hangs in my studio for all to see which epitomizes how special the CAC center is to me.  It says: “This Is My Happy Place”. Being an artist member at CAC has allowed me to become a part of a nurturing community where someone like me who is relatively new to ceramics and being a creative artist can learn, develop and improve my artistic ideas and processes. The community has allowed me to discover who I am     as an artist by exposing me to an array of different artists with different perceptions and styles who have warmly accepted me and helped me be able to, (borrowing a phrase) give perceivable form to the unperceivable. There is no other place like it!

Ron Dean
I took class with Henry when I was 21 so that was 1969. Did that for a while then became a member. Eventually I became studio manager which I did for 4 to 5 years.
There are so many memories. Learning from Henry and ALL the other members. The members were a great source of knowledge & information.
I knew Henry. He was my teacher, a man of few words . When I first became a member, I worked days as a roofer, evenings & weekends making pots. One night , Henry came through, as he often did & critiqued my bowls, which was appreciated . He then told me that one teaches oneself. That meant to me that all information is out there, it's up to me to get it & to practice. Making pots teaches me how to make pots. He could show me the basics but I would teach myself. A great piece of information.
My time at the Clay Art Center was very special. A wonderful experience & I was very fortunate to have been there.

Ariel Edwards
I will never forget the community mosaic that I created for the center. It was such a beast of a project that spanned 4 years, 50 artists and thousands of community members and volunteers. During the installation in the summer heat of 2013 we had set up scaffolding against the outside of the building. I was, and still am, terrified of heights but each day during that summer I climbed up a slippery frame ladder to the 12 foot mark and sat there on the scaffold platform clinging to the reinforcements, sticking on hundreds of leavesone at a time with different volunteers. In the beginning I would have tears streaming down my face and my hands would shake, but after a while it became slightly more natural and I would get swept away arranging the leaves, bugs and birds of the mosaic tree while imagining the story they would tell.
Standing back and looking at the finished mosaic, remembering all the hard-learned lessons, shaking green grout out of my hair each day, laughing after opening sealed boxes of whimsical children's tiles that had been long-forgotten; it was an incredible sense of accomplishment. The community had come together in a rare and phenomenal way and helped to stake their claim in the work that we do. We had artists and teen volunteers elbow-to elbows with firemen and people walking in off the street who were curious and wanted to help. I will never forget how that experience shaped me and built a solid foundation for the impact of community art programs. Before that project we were a collection of peripherally linked people, but afterwards we became united by the sweat blood and tears of that shared experience. There simply isn't anything more powerful than that and I thank my lucky stars that I had the chance to do it and a community of people at CAC who trusted me and bent their backs to the task of making it happen!
I didn't know Katherine or Henry but you could feel them there at the center. Their artwork is still very present, and unearthing photographs and piecing together little stories from former artists who would stop by every now and then, they really grew into a mythological presence. The fact that today there are hundreds of artists and thousands of students who whose lives were transformed by the work that they did is amazing, and I often wonder if they ever could have guessed at that impact when they opened the doors of a disused factory building and hung the first hand-painted "Clay Art Center" sign on the building.

Mark Fitzgerald

My fondest memories of my time at CAC are the several times a month when we would finish the days’ work and drive over to Henry’s little seaside apartment in Greenwich for drinks and dinner. We would typically stop at a market on the way over to pick up fresh tuna for sashimi and some Tanqueray for martinis. Once there, Henry would prepare a dinner of sautéed pork and vegetables. We would usually sit on the floor around a low table in his living room and over the course of the meal and a few drinks, Henry would really open up and reveal a side of himself that he usually kept quite guarded. While listening to traditional Japanese folk music, I would listen to him tell of his family and pre-war childhood in Lodi, California; the darker time of his war years in an Arizona camp (where he developed a love for and, I suspect, a proficiency at baseball…he loved third base);his post war years in the US Army and his eventual migration east and the establishment, with Katherine Choy, of the Clay Art Center.
The stories and experiences are too numerous and some too personal to go into great detail about, but I cherish those memories and will forever feel indebted to Henry. He was a beautiful man with a generous spirit who gave more than he ever knew.
I will always treasure the last time I saw Henry. He was ill at the time but he traveled with Elsbeth Woody to visit us in Pennsylvania. I think he knew his time was short and the deep bond and friendship that we had developed over the years at CAC, acknowledged by his visit to my home and studio, is an honor that sustains me to this day.

I got to know Henry very well and even though he wasn’t actively making pots at the time, I consider him to be my mentor. Among the many other gifts he gave me, most importantly, was the ability to see beyond the process of making objects and to understand that being a potter was a “way of life”. I’m quite sure my life would have been vastly different had it not been for Henry and the Clay Art Center.

Shanna Fliegel

What is my most vivid memory - That is a tough question.  In a short amount of time (2 years) I felt, experienced, and learned a great deal.  My last memory took place at a lunch with Reena prior to moving to Montana for a residency and teaching position.  I will always treasure Reena's support as she communicated her and CAC's job had been fulfilled...they had given me roots and now it was time to "fly".  I remember mornings walking to CAC (the air smelling like burnt toast) and opening the Annex to prepare for a day of teaching adults and children alike.  The kids and families from across the street, so happy to join in during class.  So busy, so meaningful.  Drawing out the template for the tree in the Annex...the beginning stage of the mural.  Always something in the works, always something happening.  Reena's energy, passion, everyday, for everything and everyone.  

Grace Fraioli

I first visited the Clay Art Center in 1984, when I moved to New York from Arizona, and that is when I met Henry Okomato. I worked at the CAC when I was getting my masters degree from 1988- 1989, working with new owner Elsbeth Woody, and I was so saddened to hear of Henry’s loss. I helped reorganize the CAC much to the design it is now. I also assisted classes, fired kilns, made glazes, taught Raku workshops, and created my own sculptures.

In the late 1970’s, I was a graduate student at Northern Arizona University with Professor Don Bendel and he introduced me to Don Reitz. My first favorite memory was when Don Reitz came to the CAC in 1989 to give a workshop. I was so excited he came to do a workshop here, especially since he had retired to Arizona and built a ranch in Verde Valley. He was a major influence and inspiration in my work, and I first met him when I was 20. When he was at the CAC, we caught up on life and he shared a unique trip he took to Japan with Don Bendel and Yukio Yamamoto, a master of Tozan kilns, who was an international guest artist at NAU. They experienced the traditional Japanese Raku, and they were treated like royalty. We caught up on life, and shared a Japanese dinner the first night together with Elsbeth Woody, current owner of CAC, and a few other artists. The final day of the workshop I invited Don over to my house for dinner to meet my family.

The second favorite memory was the friendship I had with Elsbeth Woody current owner of CAC. For a decade I had been working on cactus forms without success. Elsbeth inspired me by her incredible monumental sculptures and taught me the method of additive pinch. During the firing I learned how to support the arms so they don’t collapse. It is a method I still use and teach to all my students. We also had many fun social times like our trip to Storm King Art Center, dinner at her New York studio, and fun working around the CAC together with other artists.

My third favorite memory is the friendship I have with Reena Keshyap and all the work we did together in the 2008 celebration of “All Fired Up” in Westchester County. Reena introduced me to Harrison art teacher and friend, Tracy Gilman to do the county wide K-12 Exhibition together. We have been in many art exhibitions and participated in many exhibitions together, one of which is at our local Tandoori restaurant called “Clay & Curry”. When I got my position as a ceramics teacher at New Rochelle High School in 1989, it impacted my time to work at CAC, and I was very busy raising my children. I have been around to participate in many events when possible through the years.

Irene Kutsky, from the College of New Rochelle took me to the CAC, in 1984, when I moved here from Flagstaff, Arizona. Irene and Henry were close friends and had worked together in the Boston CAC. I bought my Skutt kiln from Henry and would see him to pick up supplies every few months. He was such a nice person and a gentle soul.

Ron Geibel
Spending time with Noelle W. during our bi-weekly private lessons is my most vivid memory.  I worked with Noelle for almost my entire two year run at CAC.  We would spend our time discussing anything and everything and she became a true friend.  In the end, I realized that I needed those weekly meetings more than she did. Noelle would often give me postcards with little notes from her worldly travels. They now exist on my refrigerator.

Josephine Harris

Yes I was there the summer of 1958, just after Katherine Choy had died. Jeff Schlanger and I were at Swarthmore College together and had done some pottery In a basement room that had a kick wheel, but no kiln. He invited me to come over to the Portchester Clay Arts Center to make some pots. I can't remember the names of the two Potters who helped me that summer, but the were very kind and I made my first hi fired pots there and Istill have them to this day. I remember that Viola Frey was there too, but she was not famous yet. After that summer I went to study at the Brooklyn Museum with Hui Ka Kwong and Arthur Floyd. I was friends with Henry Okamoto, and bought my first Shimpo from him. I'm still throwing on it today. We were friends even after I moved to California In 1975.

Deb Heid
I joined CAC artist community with the hope that I could have the time and space to develop my craft and art.  What I found was a warm and welcoming place that truly facilitates my goals. The other artists.  They share techniques and other information AND they are very supportive of each other, encouraging, celebrating successes and willing to critique (when asked or needed).  They are serious about their art and are pleasure to work with. The staff.  They are are knowledgeable and very helpful. They have been supportive of my efforts to grow and provided opportunities and genuine interest in my work. The space itself.  It is not fancy, but spacious, functional and accessible.  

Katie Tynan Helu

I was and still am ever so grateful to have been an Asscociate Member of the CAC. It provided me with the opportunity to bisque, glaze and fire my pots. Since I moved rather frequently back then, I needed access to a kiln. It was a wonderful time in my life to be with so many warm and dedicated potters. I still remember lovingly packing up my numerous greenware pieces at home in Ridgefield, CT to be bisqued. I spent endless hours mixing glazes, glazing and doing studio work. There was so much to learn and so many folks who guided me and then there were the finished glazed pieces...what joy!

Yes, I knew Henry Okomoto, but not Katherine Choy. Henry ran the CAC for the first three years that I was there. Henry always went the extra mile and on a shoestring to keep the CAC running. When Henry became too ill to work, Elsbeth Woody jumped in and helped Henry enormously.

Tabbatha Henry
There are 2 things that I most remember about my time at CAC.  First is the incredible support of Reena and all the other members of the studio.  My time there was filled with much personal and artistic growth, and I believe the environment of CAC played a huge role in my development. The second thing is the amazing exposure to other artists and the ceramic community in general that I had never known before!  I felt like I had finally found my people!  The workshops, exhibits, field trips and visiting artists were inspiring and helped me see the many possibilities available in pursuit of a career in ceramics.  CAC is enormously responsible for my current status as a ceramic designer and business owner.

I do not know Henry or Katherine. But, before I went to work at CAC in 2000, many many years earler, before Reena had taken over, I went there in search of space to work in.  It was run by a couple of guys, I don't remember who now, and the upstairs studio was the only one in use.  I offered to do work in exchange for space, and they put me to task cleaning out what is now the downstairs studio off the kiln room.  It was completely empty!  No one was working in there, and it was just a huge, dark, dirty cavern. I didn't last long there as it was a mere shadow of what it is now, but when, years later, I tried again to do a work exchange, I found Reena at the helm.  I was living in Colorado at the time, and cold called asking for space.  She said "come see me when you get here" so I packed my car, drove cross country, and showed up at the doorstep.  She put me to work in the classroom, and I eventually moved upstairs, applied to grad school, and my career was launched!


Robin Henschel

I moved to this area in 2007 and the reason I moved to Rye was the bicycle commute to the Clay Art Center.  We came to check out the area in the middle of Hurricane Irene but Reena agreed to meet me at CAC and show me around.  She was so warm and welcoming.   I think I was the first CAC artist to be vetted by the artists committee.   Before that Reena kept a list of possible artists in her head and juggled people and spaces.  I was given the space that had been Elaine Rattet's after a probation period and I always say that someone had to die to have a space open up.   This was before we took over the woodshop and studio space was even more sought after.  Barbara Rittenberg befriended me when I was a CAC newbie and opened my eyes to the New York art world taking me to galleries and museums and all the All Fired Up venues all over Westchester.  One of my most vivid memories is of Kyla in all her roundness sitting in the middle of the table in the upstairs studio pressing her designs into the mugs for the first fundraiser.   She was quite a character.

Debra Holiber

CAC is not only a creative enclave but one of comradery and support in all aspects of everyday life.  This will always be my fondest memory of my time at CAC as a studio artist!

Heather Houston

I started at Clay Art Center in 2005-2006 as a Resident Artist, and I taught off and on there for several more years. I fondly remember all the wonderful potlucks we had.  Also,a funny thing that happened while I was there: once a squirrel got into the main classroom (which is now the gallery), and he was running around in a panic smashing bisqueware from the boneyard onto the floor. Kelli Damron, Michelle Tinner and I were trying to devise ways to get him out, but ultimately we had to leave a window open and let him find his own way out.

Lala Howard
Some Impressions of My 15 Years at the Early Clay Art Center by Lala Wiemers Howard
The Clay Art Center was the wonderful address, the good tidings that were given to us by David Campbell, the Director of the American Crafts Council on 53rd Street in New York City. That was in June, 1958. I had just arrived in the U.S. on a World War II “Victory” ship together with my friend Doris Yokelson; it was a nine-day, stormy trip from Rotterdam to Hoboken. Doris and I had worked together in a pottery studio in Germany, on the Lower Rhine.    

I called the Clay Art Center and spoke to Henry Okamoto, who was in charge of the Center. Henry had been the cofounder of the Clay Art Center with Katherine Choy, who was a very energetic and gifted artist, and who unfortunately passed away only months after they had created the studio.        

Jeff Schlanger picked us up at the Port Chester train station in his truck. At that time there were only five to seven members of this unusual place where a quiet and genuine freedom was felt. We were accepted as members right then and there, and I remember wondering if things were always so easy flowing in America.

When I started at the Center, there were kick wheels and that little electric wheel stuck in a corner that nobody else wanted to use because it had only three speeds and no slow speed at all. In order to slow the wheel down, I had to turn off the wheel completely; it changed my throwing technique really fast.

Doris soon left the Clay Art Center to pursue painting, and I continued at the Center for the next fifteen years, until 1973. We, however, never lost touch with the early members Henry Okamoto, Jeff Schlanger, Renee Murray, Dean Mullavey, Dan Gehan, and the two ceramic artists in the permanent collection in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Viola Frey and Mike Frimkus.
Two good friends and gifted potters passed away while they were working at the Center: Ted Bielefeld and David DeKalb(sp?), who were so young; and those tragedies shook all of us.

I had a wonderful friendship and creative exchange with Renee Salzman (Murray) and enjoyed her free style of throwing and building, and with Jeff Schlanger who was an example for me of an unusual and powerful potter/sculptor.
My future husband Jim Howard worked in clay and wood and did bronze casting with Bill Underhill in a building connected with the Clay Art Center. His woodcarvings reminded me at times of Brancusi’s way of treating wood. Jim joined the Clay Art Center in 1971.
It moves me to write about Henry Okamoto. He was an incredibly thoughtful and modest man, yet his generosity and open mindedness toward art and people, including students and colleagues, showed his true strength. We admired his powerful loyalty to carry on with the Clay Art Center regardless of how difficult it was and how miraculous it seemed at times. I also think of his small delights, and one of them was playing with Jim’s and my little daughter Mary. Mary found it fun to stand inside of a huge pot that Didier Journaux had built rather than in her playpen, and watch me work. Each time that Henry walked by, Mary pointed at him and called out, “Darling Henry!” Once she wanted to discourage him from smoking, and while he was passing by she called out to him, “Darling Henry has a fire-pacifier. Phooey!” Whenever Mary took a nap in the studio upstairs on a cot that had a curtain around it and was close to my wheel, Henry would tip toe up and peek around the curtain to see if she was all right.
Our beloved Henry still wanted to build a 12-cubic foot, downdraft kiln, in 1987, for Jim and me in our ceramic studio in Croton-on-Hudson. He was already quite sick and fragile, but he wanted to do it. It was the last kiln he built.
Natalie Kase

I had the pleasure of meeting Henry Okamoto when I purchased my first kiln in 1979. I remember walking into the CAC and the room in front of me was filled with equipment, kilns, and clay.
 The room which is now our gallery was filled with more of the same. One could barely walk around.  HIs office was where the glaze room is. He had 2 desks, and there was lots of paper all over. But Henry knew where everything was. About a week later he delivered the kiln to my home.I saw Henry when I would stop by the CAC to pickup some clay. In the 1980’s Henry became quite ill and passed away in 1988. I remember Elsbeth calling me up and giving me this very sad news. She was planning a memorial service for Henry and asked if I would help. There was a lot to do. Everything had to be cleaned up and stored. The service was to be help in the upstairs communal studio. All tables and equipment was moved out of the way. Chairs were rented. On the day of the memorial, many came to pay their respects.
It was standing room only; very crowded! Guests introduced themselvesand spoke of Henry, many of them very well-known ceramic artists.
I had met Elsbeth on one of my visits to the CAC. She was working in the large downstairs room (now partitioned for private spaces). . At that time, it only had a large brick kiln midway down the room nearthe outside wall on the left side.. Elsbeth was working on a large installation and I was fascinated by how she built the pieces. In the early part of the 1980’s I started working with Elsbeth. She instructed me in her building techniques. We worked upstairs in what is now the shared space.
A few years later I became a member. I called Elsbeth and asked if she had any space to rent. ‘Come on over and have your pick!” and so I did. There were newly built shelf space, only a few were taken already…so I did have my choice. I remember that Audrey Greenwald was there, along with Bernie Kopitz, Sally Aldrich, and Gloria Nixon-Crouch joined a short time later. A few years later, Marilyn Richeda became a member.  The 2 private spaces were rented by Ryo Toyonaga (I hope this is a correct spelling) and Kazuko Lee.
A short time after Henry passed away, Elsbeth took on a partner, Claudia. Elsbeth and her husband were splitting their time between the CAC and South Africa (her husband came from South Africa). It became more apparent that Elsbeth wanted to sell the CAC. In the meantime, all the members (those upstairs and a few downstairs in the large room) would try to meet once a month, as all of us were eager to see the CAC continue. We all loved it there. At one of these meetings, I mentioned that I had heard that Reena Kashap (I did not know Reena) might be interested. Someone said, “so call her!”. I walked over to the phone and did just that. We spoke for a short time and she suggested that we all meet. And so, after sometime, Reena took over. Again we all met with Reena, she asked that we all pitch in and help. We did office work, answered phones, mailings, help plan a class or 2 and workshops, lectures with some very well-know artists. Andthe artists even had time to do their own work!
It was an exciting time.
I was planning a trip to Athens, Georgia to visit my son, Kenneth, whohad been a graduate student there. Reena asked me if I could get in touch with Michael Simon and Ron Meyers. Kenneth had studied at Cortona, Italy with the University of Georgia, and met Michael Simon, became his student assistant. It was through Michael that he met Ron Meyers. Kenneth set up dates when I could meet with each of them. And both did come to the CAC to give workshops.
One of my favorite memories came about in 2006. One morning I was working on some small cups, turned them upside down to add a foot. Dalia, who was working at the wheel, came over and told me she loved the bottles I was making. I did not know what she was talking about. I said I was adding feet to the cups. Yes, upside down, the cup with a foot certainly did look like a bottle. A few days later, I was talking to Dalia about an idea…I would like to propose an idea for a group show in the gallery in 2007 the 50th anniversary of the CAC.  I asked Sarahand Parviz. We met and came up with a proposal that we submitted to Leigh and October 2007 was the date. The four of us: Dalia, Sarah, Parviz and myself met once a month to discuss what we were working on, sharing ideas, one of which was to create one piece that we would all work on. We decided on the title of the show: All Bottled Up. All Bottled Up was a wonderful success. All month long people came to the gallery (where the shop is now) and teachers brought their students. The experience was extremely positive. This cooperation reflected our intercontinental backgrounds (India, Israel, Great Britain and the United States) as well as the philosophy of the CAC of individuals working in harmony.

Linda Kuehne

I was at the Clay Art Center from 1987-2000. I came there literally a month after Henry died so I didn’t ever know him unfortunately. I met Elsbeth Woody who was running it after Henry died. She had bought into the CAC before Henry died and she owned it with his heirs until she bought them out. When Henry died (he had been sick for awhile), the place was barely running. At that time there were no classes, just members and the ceramic supply business that Henry was so well-known for. Henry’s office was where the glaze room is now and it had a desk, chair and telephone and was piled high with papers and folders. You could hardly find your way through. I had been taking ceramic classes at a local YMCA in White Plains. I was ready to move on from there and when I found the CAC, it was just what I was looking for. I loved the gas firings, the glazes and the rough and tumble atmosphere—no hot water, no AC, barely any heat, cold in the winter, hot in the summer. It didn’t both me, I loved it! Elsbeth did an incredible job at that time, keeping the place going, practically single-handedly. She delivered ceramic supplies, she taught classes, she tried to have enough time to do her own work too. I volunteered to help in the office. It was an opportunity for me to learn from the ground up what it takes to run a clay art center. Elsbeth taught me how to throw, handbuild, fire the kilns, order clay—the works. She was an excellent teacher, one of the best I ever had. I remember some of her advice—when you are throwing, learn to throw larger than you need to so that you have the option of working small or large. Also, learn it her way and then, once you’ve mastered it, go your own way. I essentially apprenticed with her and received the equivalent of a master’s in ceramics. We would talk far into the night about the best way to fire the brick kiln that is still there today. She loved it all. She was also an incredible artist and was very generous in sharing information about her work. She always said that Henry’s philosophy for the CAC was that people should share info on glazes recipes, clay bodies, etc. If someone didn’t want to share, they shouldn’t be at the CAC—no proprietary attitude allowed! At the same time Elsbeth was running the center, she was working full-time as the chair of the art department at Baruch in the city. So the only time she could do her own artwork was in the evenings when it was quiet. During her/my time there we had some wonderful workshops like Don Reitz, Paul Soldner, Byron Temple, Ron Meyer, David Shaner, and Neil Tetkowski—and many others. The CAC had become a thriving bee-hive of activity with an increase in membership, classes and workshops. We may have only had enough money to barely keep the infrastructure going but we did it. Elsbeth moved the office upstairs where it is now. She herself built the countertop and glaze tables that you now use. She put in hot water, which was a BIG deal! Instead of a hotplate to heat up water for throwing, all we had to do was turn on the tap! Elsbeth had taken on a partner, Claudia Miller in 1994 or 1995. Claudia was an artist and sculptor looking for studio space.She joined and became an integral part of our community. The last couple of years before Elsbeth and Claudia sold the CAC to Reena, I became director of the CAC-1995-1997.  Elsbeth decided to take a sabbatical for a couple of years and left Claudia and me in charge. During my time as director, I established the gallery with the invaluable help of our then studio manager, Marc Leuthold. We had a great lineup of artists local and from all over the country including some people that are now well-known—Susan Beiner, Beth Kattleman, Justin Novak, among others.  Marc Leuthold has, of course, gone on to become an internationally know artist and professor of ceramics at SUNY Potsdam. Elsbeth decided to sell in 1997. I stayed on for 3 more years and then had my own studio in my home. I have incredibly fond memories of my time there and I am so happy to see how Reena and now Leigh have continued what Kathryn, Henry and then Elsbeth started!

Helen Kunzman

I had originally called the Clay Art Center around 1987 when I first became interested in clay.  I had a phone conversation with Henry about buying a wheel and he was friendly and helpful - inviting me to visit the Center.  I do regret that I didn't actually stop by the CAC at that time - I would have met him in person!

I became involved with the CAC around 1988 into the 90's when Elsbeth Woody - and then Elsbeth and Claudia Miller - were the principals of the Center.  

I received one particular lesson from Elsbeth in exchange for a volunteer day clean-up.  It was a moment of enlightenment on the wheel when Elsbeth told me to "think diagonally" and the feel for centering suddenly clicked-in.  That love for the feel of clay in my hands remains to this day.

My fond memories of the Clay Art Center in that period included wonderful workshops with eminent ceramic artists such as Don Reitz, Paul Soldner and Brian Temple.  The CAC has been a great source of friendships and learning - a unique and special place for discovery and creativity.

Debbie Lecce

My years at CAC were very special and important for me, it was shortly after i moved from a Brooklyn Studio
to my present studio in the Hudson Valley. Here i was looking for a place to learn how to fire a gas kiln, it was
my dream, to have my own kiln. So off to CAC i went where I met Rina, soon after that i became an associated
member and teamed up with Lilly Schore and Georgia, as firing members. We had great fun and food,
while I learned how to de stress about fire, gas and flames.
This was a very special time for me to gain confidence and knowledge while in the midst of so many great

Steve Lee

I have a couple of memories: When I was deciding whether to come to CAC as a resident I took the train up from NYC to Port Chesterto look at the studio and meet the people there.  I was deciding between CAC and another job/residency in New Jersey.  After visiting I had such a good impression of Reena and the warmth of the people in the studio. I wanted to work there but the other studio was offering more money (which was a concern at the time). When Reena took me to the train station to go home, we sat in her van and talked openly about the two opportunities and then negotiated an agreement (which included additional work opportunities) before I got out to go home. I loved working for Reena because she provided structure and freedom at the same time. She was one of my best bosses and I learned a lot watching how she treated people.

My first community class (wheel throwing) was the morning of Sept 11th, 2001.  I drove up from Manhattan that morning and had turned off the radio to mentally prepare for class and thought it was odd that so few cars were on the road.  Ursula was the one who told me that a plane had flown into the WTC but we thought it was just a minor accident until we heard over the radio that a second plane crashed and then the towers had collapsed.  After speaking with Reena, I went down to the class and said that we were going to cancel the class but that people could stay and work if they wanted to.  I walked over and sat in the church across the street. I think that was Rimmie’'s first ceramics class and we still talk about it when we see each other at NCECA.

I have a lot of other great memories that include the many wonderful people in the studio but those were the two that stood out. I did not know either of them [Katherine or Henry] but I still have a bucket of Choy blue celedon in my studio to this day.


Marc Leuthold

The CAC has come a long way!  It's so dynamic now. Congrats to all who have shaped it and worked so hard to make it thrive.
Reena has been esp instrumental. In the mid 90's, it was really struggling to keep going.  Reena rescued it.

I was there from 1995-7, I was the studio manager.  As such I fired every gas kiln firing in an old up draft kiln.  I loaded every friday night.  Candled and Sat I fired it off and did whatever else needed to be done.  Mixing glazes and stuff.  I think I unloaded the kiln on Mondays.  Not sure. The members really kept the studio clean.  And they dry mixed the glazes so it was easy to mix glazes.  There were a group of Japanese people who made beautiful tableware.  These Japanese were usually women and their
husbands usually worked in NYC for large Japanese corporations.  When their husband got transferred back to Japan, they would have what I would call "grieving parties" because life in Japan for women is so different from the freedoms that women in USA enjoy.  These Japanese had a natural touch with the clay and glazes.

Linda Kuehne, artist and CAC Director, hired me for the job.  She was incredibly supportive.  She gave me a space to work and free materials. And a reasonable wage.  During my work weekends, I stayed nights at the CAC in an apt that Elsbeth Woody had built within the Center.  It was comfortable there.  Elsbeth still owned the Center with Claudia Miller, a woman who lived in Greenwich but who now lives in SoHo.  Linda invited me to give a lecture at CAC about my work and a few members
attended as well as Linda and Claudia.

In 1996, Linda made me, with her, the Gallery Director as well as the studio manager.  The Gallery was tiny at that time.  But we did lots of creative things.  We had a national competition for solo exhibitions.  All we did was advertise in Ceramics Monthly.  We got really good applications and together, Linda, Claudia and I picked Phyllis Kudder Sullivan, Justin
Novak, and Susan Beiner for a series of solo shows.  They each came there and set up their show and we hosted a reception and printed a color announcement card.  Sort of a big deal then.  All three of these artists went on to have major careers.  We were proud of them and happy to have recognized their obvious talent early on.

I left the CAC to accept a tenure track ceramics teaching position with SUNY.  Since that time, I haven't heard from many people from the CAC. Sometimes I hear from Linda Kuehne and Gloria Nixon Crouch.  Gloria was a wonderful fun member who makes fantastic figural work.  We gave her a solo show at the Gallery too.  

Denis Licul

I joined Clay Art Center in 2000, soon after I came to live in New York from my home country Croatia. I will never forget my first year in the studio and all support I received in this loving, nurturing and creative community that eased up my integration in this country. I came to CAC on the beginning of its upward swing under the leadership of Reena Kashyap. I witnessed the growth of a fragile plant, nourished by unconditional love, dedication and vision, into the healthy tree that provides creative habitat to many and bears fruits far all to enjoy.

Being a part of CAC is belonging to a very special community of people and artists. CAC provides ongoing learning experience from the best in the ceramic field, and presents opportunities to share this special art and craft with the wider community.

My very special memory would be the CAC exhibition in my hometown Labin in Croatia in 2003. I had a privilege of bringing together my two homes and friends from the both sides of the Ocean, and we all enjoyed and benefited from this friendly cultural exchange.

Loren Maron

I feel lucky and blessed to be an artist at the Clay Art Center. From the very first time I set foot in the studio I had a sense that I had "arrived", that this is what it was all about, what a ceramic studio should be. I came first as a student from another studio and had been encouraged to apply to be a CAC Artist by a friend. It took nearly two years before I had that honor and honored is what it truly felt like. It seemed then like an elite club that i'd been initiated into. While it is by no means a clique, it is still special and I feel proud even now to say I am a part of this community. There is a sense of inclusion and acceptance regardless of where one is on their particular ceramic journey. We are a family.

Jonathan McMillan

I have many great memories from my time at the Clay Art Center, but one moment that sticks out to me now is a dinner at Reena's house with visiting artist Malcolm Davis.  I was Malcolm's assistant for the workshop he taught, and he also juried the "Shino Redux" show at the CAC gallery that year.  It was great to sit down with him, Reena and Leigh, their spouses and Andrew and Shanna (the other resident artists at the time) to a delicious Indian dinner at Reena's house in Rye.  Malcolm was a great guy and a fantastic artist.  As many know, he was a real character, and his untimely death just a year and a half later made me realize how special it was to be able to spend time with him at CAC.
Veronica Medina

I will always remember the "change of guard/goodbye party/baby shower" potluck lunch that was thrown in part for a very pregnant me. We celebrated the arrival of Adam Chau and Robert Zilli while wishing farewell to Matt Smith and Cory and Katelin Brown. Witnessing the heartfelt words exchanged for and by Cory and Katelin was moving; it cemented my belief that at its core CAC is about inclusion and community. Being pregnant at CAC I always had at least a dozen mother hens and a couple of roosters watching over me! I received such a generous gift from the community and Wendy Weinstein even made a giant 6 footstuffed animal modeled after my sculptures! I will forever feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and luckiness for having been so nurtured artistically and emotionally.

Leigh Taylor Mickelson
My first memory of Clay Art Center, which in many ways is one of my fondest, is the first time I visited CAC, when I drove up to NY from Baltimore meet with Reena Kashyap about a job position.  I had originally called her looking for a community of artists that I could be a part of, but as fate would have it, she was looking for an individual to bring onto her staff.  I remember walking through the center, amazed to see that it went on and on, with more to see behind each door. In that first hour of visiting, I knew I could make a difference here and that I had found a new home. I came to CAC as an arts administrator, first, but what I found here was a wonderful community of artists who were dedicated and passionate about clay.  Being a part of this community, and being a part of the center’s growth and evolution, has been an incredible joy in my life.  

Luanne Morse
      I was a CAC member in the early to mid-90's, it was an amazing place, I worked during the evenings and weekends and though this most likely sounds like a fairy tail now, more often than not I had the place to myself for hours of concentrated and very productive work time. My work grew, changed and developed dramatically during my time at CAC. My most vivid memories are of just that being in a studio environment that had everything I needed to see my work through to fruition and completion.

Rene Murray             

When I graduated from University of Michigan in 1964 with a masters degree in ceramics, I was unable to find a college teaching job.  My own teacher, John Stephenson, had gone to Cranbrook with Jeff Schlanger and had heard of CAC, a workplace for serious clay artists. Upon Stephenson’s recommendation, I decided to go to CAC for just a year, but instead stayed there for 8 glorious years!
It was 1964. I felt the excitement of CAC immediately. I was just a young graduate but I could see the intensity and seriousness of those working here.  Though in the outside world, the spectre of the Vietnam war was prevalent, CAC felt like an insular environment and all that came here felt as if they were in a cocoon, unified by the passion for clay, and for making clay objects.
This group studio was overseen and run by Henry Okamoto who had developed his own passion for clay and for carpentry during the time that he spent in a WW II internment camp (here in the U.S.A.). He had co-founded CAC with another potter, Katherine Choy and it was rumored that he had fallen in love with her. She had died tragically young (a few years before I arrived) either by her own hand or by some fast moving illness. Henry was a quiet person, not prone to making speeches or speaking much at all, so this information remained on the rumor level.
Since Henry did not give me any instructions about where to work or how much space I was allotted, I carved out my own space. It was on the ground floor of the two story building and in a corner near a huge (hand built) kiln that reached almost to the high ceiling. On the left hand side of the giant kiln, and all in a row, were3 other smaller (Alpine) kilns. The front door was to the left of this last kiln. As you entered the building, you saw right in front of you, an island of glaze buckets with a sink on the far wall. There was no hot water and very little heat on this floor. When I moved into my space, I brought my own wheel, a mid-western (Klopfenstein) treadle wheel and installed it in the corner.  Then I went to work.
You worked at your own pace and when you had enough pieces, you requested a kiln from Henry, stacked it, and fired it yourself to C/10.  Only Henry fired the giant kiln (to c/4).  I learned to fire the Alpine kilns and eventually developed my own style of reduction firing.
I don’t drive a car. Since I lived in Brooklyn, I needed to take the train out to Port Chester. It took two hours to get to CAC, but since I wasn’t driving, I could read the newspaper or a novel while munching on a breakfast bagel. I would step off of the platform in the morning and inhale the delicious aroma of baking bread from the Arnold bread factory.  I would walk through town, passing the most wonderful thrift shop. I would invariably stop in.  More often than not, I would make a purchase or two. Oak furniture was the rage at that time and I could have collected countless oak tables and chairs. I would arrive at CAC happy and eager to begin work.
We were young and frisky and sometimes played pranks on each other.  There was another potter (Diedier Journeaux) who when he fired his own kiln, would pilot overnight and ALWAYS opened the door in the morning (before turning on the main gas line) to check on his pots. Sometimes one of us would write a note (HELLO, DIEDIER) and prop it up on one of his pots and then wait around in the morning to see his reaction (usually not amused). Ordinarily we respected each other and each other’s work.  We shared glaze recipes and techniques. For example, Lala Wiemers (soon to be Lala Howard) and I shared in the development of a triple layered technique for getting a thrilling and beautiful copper red glaze.

Glazing pots was sometimes a challenge especially in the colder months. Since the glaze buckets and the sink were just opposite the front door, every time someone came in, an icy blast of freezing air would accompany them. Our hands were invariably deep in the glaze buckets and it was cold! Without hot water it was difficult to ever get your hands warm.
I made my own clay. There was a dough mixer (near the sink), which was bought from the Arnold Bread factory down the street.  I would empty bags of powdered clay into the mixer.  As I was puffing on a cigarette the powdered clay would be engulfing my head.  After a while, I realized that I couldn’t make clay and smoke at the same time.  I never smoked again.
Henry used to get sand from a local construction company. He would spread the sand on the floor and then scoop it up into the dough mixer to add to the powdered clay. Water was then added, the machine was turned on and workable clay was produced. The mixer made an awful noise when it was in action. One of the other potters (Ja qki Clipsham) saw the popular 1965 movie called “How to Kill Your Wife” and lifted the name of the cement mixer from that movie. She scrawled it onto our own dough mixer: The Glopitta, Glopitta machine.
One time, unknown to us, the sand that Henry got from the construction company was loaded with plaster. It got mixed with the clay. We didn’t find out about the plaster until the whole batch of pots were fired and sections started to pop off. What a mess! All of these pots were ruined.
There was a small landing on the stairs leading up to the second floor. If any of us had a small body of work that we had finished and wanted to show others, we would set it up there. A mini show. Very informal.
There was a constant stream of important visitors.  Some just passing through (like Peter Volkos and Marie Woo), or those who stayed briefly and then moved on (like Cynthia Bringle and Viola Frey).
Henry collected a monthly rent. I don’t remember the amount, but it was very low. If you didn’t have the money, he would waive the amount for that month (or longer). He even had a small bed in back of the second floor where someone could ‘flop’ for the night (or longer) if necessary. Henry was a silent presence, but always there. I later realized how loving he felt toward all of us—very protective—like a mother hen.
I always wanted Henry’s approval. Once, when I was unstacking one of my kilns, Henry was standing by (as usual) and checking out my latest work. Goblets were among the items in that kiln. He was wearing his usual navy wool cap and smoking a cigarette. As he looked at the work he rapidly and repeatedly tapped on the cigarette and made a low hum-like noise…..hmmmm, hmmmmm. I was thrilled! I knew from his body language and sub-vocal utterance that he really liked those goblets!
Although Henry was everywhere watching all that was created, he sometimes made his own work.  He threw magnificent bowls and plates, always glazed simply in a saturated iron glaze. I still have one of those bowls and I think that Jeff Schlanger or Lala Howard might have a set of his dishes.
There were certain times that I remember Henry as less reticent. Often in the late afternoon or early evening, a bunch of us would go down the block to the local dive (the Playland Bar and Grill) and hang out drinking pitchers of beer and eating pizza. Then Henry would become quite voluble. Once he even spoke of his time in the internment camp. I never heard him mention Katherine Choy.
One of the exciting things that happened for me while I was at CAC in those years was the development of marketing techniques for my growing body of work. I needed to sell my pottery. These were the days of the Tupperware parties. A friend could host a party, invite his/her friends, put out food and drink, and sell the Tupperware. The friend could either take a percentage of the sales or select some Tupperware to keep. I decided to do this type of party. My parents helped by letting me use their summer home which was about an hour from CAC. Steve and I drove to their house, set up all of the pottery on their lawn, and sold lots of work! This became a successful model. Because of those early years, I have been selling pottery and sculpture to friends, neighbors, relatives, and customers who have been loyal supporters. They have purchased my work year after year—for more than 50 years.
By 1970, I was creating even more pottery and needed to fire the Alpine kilns almost continuously. CAC had grown to include many other potters, some of whom were not full time, and others who were just starting out, or who were students. Henry needed to fire the kilns more often for these other members. This clash of needs reached a crisis point.  Henry told me that I had outgrown CAC and needed to strike out on my own. I understood.
In 1971, my father purchased a small industrial building for me in Brooklyn. Jaki Clipsham had been already renting this building—but she was interested in moving out to New Jersey (to be near her former teacher, Toshiko Takaezu). She had already built a catenary-arched kiln in the studio, so when she left, I just had to construct some shelves and tables. I moved my Klopfenstein treadle wheel into the space and went to work.  
As of 2016 I am still working in this beautiful studio and my Klopfenstein wheel

Sally Ng
In the early 2000, I started to take classes at CAC. The old classroom was where the current gallery is today.   Steven Lee was my first teacher at CAC and he was a CAC resident at that time. Steven is now the Resident Artist Director at Archie Bray Foundation.  Keiko Ashida, Reena Kashyap, Jeanne Carreau, Tracy Shell, Collette Smith, Kelli Damron, Ian Gregory, Gary Schlappal, Norifumi Suzuki were among many of the amazing teachers I had at CAC.
I love Clay! CAC’s artist community shares the same passion about clay as I do. CAC artists come from all walks of life. It is an artist community full of wisdom, kindness, and life experience. CAC is a fabulous place to inspire, learn, create, and connect.  Friendships among artists may start out with clay related topics but then the friendships flourish through sharing personal experiences -  celebrating birthdays, weddings, new born, grand kids, graduations - with good pots of food and laughter. This gives great support to artists through life’s challenging times. CAC Artist Community is like my extended family and a home away from home!     

Mari Ogihara
My most vivid memory: I was setting up the table for my first potluck at CAC. For cups I brought out the disposable ones coming straight out of graduate school. And the response was horror as they were quickly replaced by real ceramic hand-made cups!

Jessica Palmer

Learning from and being around such a diverse group of people, both in their work and as human beings, is a rewarding experience.

Did I know Henry? No, I wasn’t even born yet when they first started CAC. My anecdotal story involves Reena Kashyap. Reena was the Executive Director at the time I came to CAC. My life was in a crazy place with mixed up emotions and major ups and downs (mostly downs). I had just gotten married, was diagnosed with Melanoma and subsequent major surgery on my right cheek to remove and reconstruct, I left my demanding but financially stable career in advertising to try to regain some semblance of my own life, and lastly but not least of all I lost my father to COPD. This all happened in a matter of 6 months. I was in need of some real art therapy and thought it might be fun to try my hand at clay.
The internet brought me to CAC, which SURPRISE was in my current hometown of Port Chester! How could I have never heard of this place before? I felt like I hit the jackpot. I immediately signed up for this one-time class with Mari Ogihara called “Check it out”. It was a fun-filled Saturday and my first time throwing on the wheel (aside from maybe once in junior high) along with other clay virgins. Mari said I was a natural and should think about coming back to take a full semester class. It never occurred to me this might be something I’d start doing regularly until…
Reena happened to come down to the annex to see how everyone was. She introduced herself to me and, if you know Reena at all you’ll know she has this magical way of making people do things they might not otherwise have done or considered. So, in that convincing way she has, she nudged me and said “you’re going to come back and take a class right?” That was it, I enrolled and never left.
I have studied under numerous teachers and residents during my time at CAC including Jeanne Carreau, Georgia Tenore, Keiko Ashida as well former residents Mike Stumbras, Lindsay Scypta Fisher, and Cory Brown. I also spent a considerable time in independent study honing my voice and skills and attending workshops with notable artists like Kristin Kieffer, Tom Coleman, and Doug Peltzman. All of these people mean so much to me and to my growth and development into a CAC artist and as a person.
To be among such a talented group of individuals many of whom have spent a lifetime in clay is truly an honor to me. I learn so much from my family here at CAC not just about clay, but also about life in general. CAC literally saved me at a time I needed saving most. It gave me something to hope and inspire towards again, and bring joy back to my life.

Marilyn Richeda

When I worked downstairs in the what was affectionately called “the dungeon”, there were many artists there and ALL of us worked in low fire clay. Our studios had no walls, it was an open society between all the artists and if an artists work was large and went into the aisle, it was done! No big deal, as it went in the kiln eventually!
When there was an exhibition in the gallery, we would also want to get the recipes form the artists, laughingly behind the scenes! When we got the new glaze recipes and if anyone of us fired downstairs, we always made test tiles to put into each others kiln. After the firing, we sat with our note pads to see every piece that came out and took copious notes! Liz Biddle shared glaze recipes she got from all her clay friends and sometimes she would remember more than others but it was all so much fun and an experimentation.
There was a huge sculpture kiln in the back end of the studio, and we were scared to fire it but when Liz Biddle would fire it, it would be an “event” and a magical ceremonial magic kind of thing that Liz was firing the kiln!!!  
Linda Kuehne worked tirelessly to keep CAC going and was devoted to running the center. Linda and Mark Leuthold started the gallery.
Liz would find the artists and had a great eye for “future ceramic stars” and artists who worked at the center during that time, benefitted from her discovery of talent.
Through Linda’s encouragement I had my FIRST solo show there.

Stephen Rodrigues

Bartered with Henry to work there. 1982 was the worst year for CAC & Henry's supply business....very hard winters glazes would freeze downstairs..the studio was like working in a giant refrigerator. (mixing and wedging clay oh man! ) I think Henry starting throwing again this same year, not certain, he made lots of dinner plates & tea bowls, rice bowls, most glazed in Saturated Iron ( Temoku)  Henry loved the challenge of loading & stacking a glaze kiln(& firing) & my first year there we had a very old Alpine kiln we fired bisque & glaze in. I was just starting up in clay again....hadn't made pots seriously

Best moments...hard to choose…
#1 Henry's invite to dinner; "wanna come over?"  Okay!  Henry's Martini; straight gin on ice!
#2 meeting my 1st students there since Alfred. I believe 1982 was also the year we started classes up again... Mitsunari Ono taught two of Henry'sneighbors in Japanese. ( Henry very much wanted a Japanese potter at CAC.

Jeffrey Schlanger

I knew Henry Okamoto very well from 1958 until his death. My initial Center residency began in 1958 three months after Katherine Choy’s death. However I knew and worked with Katherine's Tulane students Viola Frey, Dean Mullavey
and Jack Hastings who had followed her to Port Chester while in intimate daily contact with Katherine’s late works then on permanent display at 49 Beech Street.

Judith Schwartz

The most important memory was how great it was to have a gas kiln, followed by the great, consistent firings and having a studio with the support of Henry who worked hard making it happen.

My need to find a space to work was not unlike those in need today. After graduation, I was left with the dilemma of where to work to continue my enthusiasm for clay and making art. In 1964 there were not many studio options in New York offering a gas kiln. I remember Jim Crumrine at Greenhouse Pottery and Hui Ka Kwong at the Brooklyn museum school had opened a studio with a kiln on West 20 th Street but they were the ‘big boys’ in town and not much for sharing their space, much less with a woman. There were few teaching positions and so when I heard of a gas kiln in Port Chester and studio space for rent I jumped at the opportunity. Living in Bayside, Queens, it was a long ride by bus and subway to Grand Central, then a train to Port Chester with a walk to the space on Beech Street, but so worth it! CAC was a two-story building with little or no heat (I think Henry was trying to conserve). On the ground floor was a clay mixing area with a dough machine, and the kiln. On the second floor, housed a open communal space. I don’t remember the fee, but it must have been modest enough for me to attend and it was there that I met Henry Okamoto. He was intense, kind, and laissez-faire in his managerial style. The place was not very tidy but there were wheels, benches and a great working atmosphere. I was in heaven. The two years at CAC enabled me to build a body of work, establish selling outlets like America House, and then have the impetus to rent my own space with a front store showroom on Third Ave and 27 th Street, a space I rented for six years before landing a position at NYU. My hope for CAC is that it continues to be a stepping stone for artists, a magnet for exciting ideas to inspire and inform, and a place where there is a continuous celebration for exploring clay and all of its permutations.

Jeff Schwarz

The most significant memory of working at CAC was simply just starting.  In the spring of 2011 my wife and I decided to move to NYC so she could further her career.  This was a big change from Pittsburgh but a change that was full of excitement for me and my wife.  Previous to my move I had been a professor at a local community college in Pittsburgh.  While I enjoyed teaching and my students I was ready for the change to New York.  As a result I looked for opportunities to continue my practice and I was lucky enough to be accepted at CAC as a resident.  This opportunity afforded me the freedom to experiment, grow and focus exclusively on my work.  I knew this was a special situation and I did’t want to squander my time.  My residency was the linchpin and spring board as an artist in NYC.  I am grateful for that time and recognize the importance that year meant to my art career in general.  I will forever be grateful for my experiences and the people I met at CAC.  


Tracy Shell

I have so many meaningful memories from my time there. If I had to choose one it would be the time Reena and Kelli Damron surprised me by organizing a Takashi Yasuda workshop on my birthday weekend. He was one of my favorite potters and watching him work was one of the greatest birthday gifts I have ever received. He also gave me one of his cups.

Tamar Sobol

I was introduced to the Clay art Center by my daughter. I came to look for classes for her and not for me. I still remember the day I came and met Reena who gave me an explanation and a tour of the place. It was not long before I decided to take lessons and 2 years later I became an artist! I thank my daughter everyday for this adventure, as it changed my life and gave me a lot of joy.

Mike Stumbras

I was a resident artist at the Clay Art Center in 2012-2013. It wasn’t terribly long after I moved to Port Chester that hurricane Sandy laid waste to the surrounding area, leaving most of Port Chester and the surrounding areas flooded and without power for an extended period of time. Luckily, the Clay Art Center was one of the few places in the area that retained electricity. Instead of closing its doors, the CAC fashioned itself into a safe space where students, administrators, and members of the community could come to charge electronics, make dinner, and laugh in defiance of our collective misfortune. In the days after the hurricane, I learned from Reena the secrets to making a flavorful base for indian dishes (it’s in the onions); I was able to learn more about the many individuals that made up the diverse community of the CAC, and I discovered that the institution I was now a part of would become much more valuable to me than just another step on my career path. Indeed, I made some life long friendships, had a chance to educate others about the value of art (particularly in my participation in the many outreach programs), and I learned about how meaningful it was to share a love of clay with an exceptional group of artists and associates.

Florence Suerig

My most vivid memory of working at CAC was the camaraderie and learning.  I was a complete novice, never having touched clay and took workshops during the years towardsbecoming proficient at using Porcelain Paper-Clay to make large-scale ceramic sculpture up to 9’ high.  It was the encouragement and fine teachers that propelled me to continue and learn so very much.  Along with this schooling, Reena’s hand at navigating the course of the center was a joy to see and be a part of.  Additionally, her leaving Leigh to succeed her was so very wonderful for the CAC’s future.

Georgia Tenore            
The first time I set foot in the Clay Art Center was in 1978 at the beginning of my clay career, when I came to buy clay. I’m sorry to say that I only knew Henry in passing.

It was in 1993 when the center was run by Elsbeth Woody that I came to have a work space and teach there. Soon after, Keiko taught just about every morning and I taught in the afternoon.It then became my clay home as it remains today. The supportive atmosphere was and still is the heart of CAC. At that time our holiday sale was scarcely attended and was more like a family party. There were my friends Audrey Greenwald and Kazuko Lee, Bernie Kopitz who was always ready to lend a hand, Linda Knudsen and Linda Keany among others..
After a few years away, I returned to CAC when Reena became director and have been teaching there ever since. I has been a pleasure to see the amazing growth and physical transformation that took place as Reena’s vision was realized. I remember going out after school to the Port Chester schools for the beginning of our community outreach.
It’s difficult to express the profound effect that being a teacher and artist there has had on my life. There are the countless workshops that feed my craft and the lifelong friendships that enrich my life not to mention my students. I can’t forget the food! we have had many, many wonderful potlucks. Some to celebrate and some to day goodbye but always wonderful. We had a great time putting our CAC cookbook together.
Over the years I have become friends with people from other parts of the country only to discover that they were once working at CAC in the early days. We now have a well deserved national presence owing to our classes, artists work space, community outreach, residency program, gallery and shop.
Hatsumi Suyama

When Jeanne Carreau started teaching at CAC, I came along with her as a student( I was taking a class at her basement studio at the time.) In June 2000, followed by Reena 's suggestion, I joined CAC as an associate artist. CAC helped me to grow as potter( I regard myself as a potter not an artist.) When I encounteredsome technical problems, there was always someone to help kindly. CAC is such a special place where we help each other to grow.                    
Jane Swergold

I was first introduced to the clay art center around 1985. My first class was with Elsbeth Woody and I fell in love with clay. Elsbeth knew it and gave me a key to the studio so I could come as often as I wanted.  As a practicing designer and painter this was new and exciting. After several classes I became a member and worked at the studio for about 10 years until I built my own studio. Since then I have shown my sculpture in NYC , Delray FL, Hollywood FL. I’m now working with combined glass and ceramics to create sculpture.
Thanks Clay Arts Center!

Michelle Tobia

It is hard to pinpoint my most vivid memory, however memories certainly revolve the most around the amazing people that were there. John Chwekun was the other Resident Artist that year and I remember him being so relaxed and easy going. Kelli Damron was the Education Coordinator and I remember and her humor and laughter.  And of course, Reena, bubbling with positivity and vision, whose energy is truly infectious in the best possible way.  They are whom I spent most of my time with.  But of just as much impact were the members and the students who really contributed to my vivid emotional memories that revolve around wonderful feelings of diversity, support, acceptance and passion that makes me smile have a warm heart.

Kathleen Tynan Helu

I was and still am ever so grateful to have been an Asscociate Member of the CAC. It provided me with the opportunity to bisque, glaze and fire my pots. Since I moved rather frequently back then, I needed access to a kiln. It was a wonderful time in my life to be with so many warm and dedicated potters. I still remember lovingly packing up my numerous greenware pieces at home in Ridgefield, CT to be bisqued. I spent endless hours mixing glazes, glazing and doing studio work. There was so much to learn and so many folks who guided me and then there were the finished glazed pieces...what joy!

Yes, I knew Henry Okomoto, but not Katherine Choy. Henry ran the CAC for the first three years that I was there. Henry always went the extra mile and on a shoestring to keep the CAC running. When Henry became too ill to work, Elsbeth Woody jumped in and helped Henry enormously.

Barbara Walch

I was at the Clay Art Center from 1973 through 1979. This was right after college following the traditional post graduation cross country trip. One of my Ceramics professors recommended that I go there to explore whether I really wanted to be a professional potter.

I spent all the time I had outside of my temporary waitress job to learn more and develop my pottery work.
The other people who were at the CAC while I was there were Ron Dean, Mark Fitzgerald, Don Wessel, Barbara Jaffe, Leslie Ferrin, Peter Feldman, Rita Sherman, Seymour Blumenfeld, Anne Krause (not the famous one), Nancy Bubb, George W.Peterson III, Bob Beaulieu, Sally Israel, John Macri, Miles Mushlin, and Caroline Mayher. It was a mix of serious hobbyists, and aspireing or rising professional potters, and ages ranged from 17 to 80 These were the core of those who were regularly and often there, forming a core of friends and colleagues who shared ideas, helpful technical knowledge and comradery. We shared in the mixing of glazes, making clay with La Machina de Gloppity Glop (a giant repurposed bread mixer), loading and firing kilns.
Lifelong connections and friendships were made.
At that time, though it was a relatively poorly heated, aged and dirty place, it was also a warm, friendly, and welcoming place to explore clay and make pots at any and all hours. These were the years I developed my signature style, and my teapots and dinnerware, and began making my living by making pots.

Story: Once while loading the big car kiln for a bisque, Mark and Don found out that Leslie’s (Ferrin) large coil pot that was on the very top was just a tad too tall. Not wanting to reload the kiln, they decided to sand down the top of the pot enough to close the kiln. Needless to say, Leslie was not amused.
Henry Okamoto: When I was at the Clay Art Center, Henry was a pretty shy and reticent person. He had a wealth of knowledge and experience and was generous in helping young aspiring potters ( allowing them to work off their rent when money was tight for them, even though money was tight for him, too) but at that time, generally didn’t look you in the eye when talking to you. He occasionally had a few people over for martinis and was more outgoing at those times. He was a chain smoker, though after I moved to Massachusetts to help found Pinch Pottery with Leslie, he gave up smoking and became much more sociable, almost garrulous.

Susan Wortman

I deeply value the relationships I have developed through CAC.  My fellow artists have become good friends with whom I share A LOT.  We problem solve and discuss the how to of clay, share meals, life stories, tears and laughter.  We inspire one another to grow personally and creatively.   CAC is my clay family and I feel honored to be apart of this community.

These oral histories represent the 60 years that Clay Art Center has been a family. Please see the exhibition, which runs January 20 - March 25, 2017 in Port Chester, NY.