By Brian D’Ambrosio
For more than fifty years, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts has been a robust and vital source of ceramic activity. Ceramic artists have traveled to the Archie Bray from around the world seeking inspiration and understanding.
“In my opinion, we are one of the top places in the world to work in ceramics,” said, Steven Young Lee, Resident Artist Director at Archie Bray. On this cool May morning Lee stands outside of an old tile-and-brick company building which has been transformed into an artist-in-residence program, a gallery, and a space for community classes. “There are a lot of reasons why this has become one of the top places. It’s the facilities, it’s the community, it’s the diversity and the diverse styles of the residents, and it’s the artists here and the interaction with and between the artists.”
Note: The Archie Bray foundation is open to the public. Pick up a self-guided walking map in the black mailbox located to your right as you enter the grounds. Exploring this facility is a great family activity.
The Archie Bray started the first “ceramic-specific residency in the country,” said Lee. The Archie Bray – a 26-acre site of a 19th-century brick factory, surrounded by the foothills of the Rocky Mountains – currently hosts ten residents drawn to it for multiple motives.
“Some come to add to a portfolio for graduate school,” said Lee. “Some see residency as a transition from school to establishing their own studio and others to recharge their creativity. It is a period of time for all to focus intensely, explore new ideas and techniques, and push their work to new levels.”
Residents merge cultures and perspectives together, sharing discoveries, establishing connections, and developing or re-developing careers. “The common goal is that the residents want to move forward,” said Lee. “That they are advancing, whether they are taking their ideas into a different place or their career into a different place, they are advancing.”
Residencies range from a few months to up to two years. New residents are chosen by the Bray’s director and a rotating jury of two other ceramic artists. The list of existing residents: Kyungmin Park,; Zemer Peled; Steven Young Lee; Adam Field; Heesoo Lee; Brooks Oliver; Bill Wilkey; Tom Jaszczak; John Souter; Chris Dufala; and Joanna Powell.
Park and Peled were recently noted in Ceramics Monthly as two of the top ten emerging artists in country.
Peled was born and raised in a Kibbutz in northern Israel. Her work has been featured nationally and internationally. She examines the “beauty and brutality of the natural world.” Her sculptural language is fashioned by her surrounding landscapes and nature, “engaging with themes of nature and memories, identity and place.” Her works are shaped of thousand of ceramic shards constructed into small and large scale sculptures and installations.
Kyungmin Park is a figurative ceramic sculptor “drawing inspiration from childlike perspectives.” Contrasting the dark emotions and the “restricted psyche of adulthood” with the “consciousness of children,” Kyungmin’s sculptures – primarily porcelain – encourage reflection of personal expectations and narratives. Originally from South Korea, Kyungmin first studied ceramics while living in Seoul.
Joanna Powell’s installation work contextualizes ordinary objects with personal meaning. Her work is the result of “thinking about longing, privacy, history and sexuality.” She draws inspiration from Etruscan and pre-Columbian pottery, Sèvres porcelain, folk art and Matisse. Her forms are excavated out of blocks of clay and pinched.
John Souter’s work has a wide scope of color, form and subject matter. Among his influences: “the quietness of inner reflection, everyday existence, grandiose splendor, color theory, and gangster culture.” Originally from Philadelphia, John joined the Bray in the fall of 2014 with the goal of “exploring the potential for his work to expand into a larger scale.”
New Jersey native Chris Dufala came to the Bray to foster friendships and “develop a deeper understanding of
professional practice.” His work blends graphic, figurative and sculptural elements “in order to illustrate the contradictions and complications inherent in contemporary, materialist life.”
Tennessean Bill Wilkey was in high school when he watched his ceramics teacher demonstrate throwing a large clay cylinder on the potter’s wheel. Since then, Bill has chased his dream of making a life as a potter. Bill’s functional pottery is made with an architectural aesthetic and he employs “atmospheric firing processes” to finish the surfaces.
Adam Field creates wheel-thrown, carved porcelain functional wares and traditional Korean coil/paddle constructed stoneware vessels. Both are “high-fired in reduction and soda kilns.”During his time at the Bray he hopes to focus on “organizing the business side of his studio practice” and reforming the production and sale of his body of work. Field was born and raised in Colorado.
Tom Jaszczak’s work is ingrained in the traditional Minnesota pottery that he grew up admiring and the Mingei folk-art philosophy advocating the “hand-crafted art of ordinary people.” A short-term resident at the Bray during the past two summers, Tom returned for a long-term residency, where he concentrates on “developing new decorative techniques and glaze and slip recipes.” Most recently he has been focusing on developing a red earthenware soda fired body of work.
Heesoo Lee makes wheel-thrown and hand-built porcelain vessels covered in delicate and colorful images drawing inspiration from nature and landscapes. . She paints landscape and floral imagery on her pieces with underglazes, slips and glazes. By layering the painting materials, she is able to achieve a level of depth, color and realism hardly found in high-fired ceramic painting. While at the Bray, Heesoo looks to “investigate new techniques for developing form.” In the past, the majority of her work has been wheel-thrown; she hopes to explore the influence of hand-building on her vessels. Heesoo was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea.
Brooks Oliver’s ceramic vessels convey his interest with the many aspects of illusion. He seeks to make the viewer “question their assumptions;” to build a context around how they perceive what is happening; and to “generate a moment where belief is suspended.”
Since the early 1950s, the Bray has attracted more than 600 ceramic artists from around the world looking to sharpen their skills. Most residents take their knowledge with them to other parts of the United States and beyond. Others stay close to Helena, which is something Lee said has become common only in recent years.
“The Archie Bray has added a cultural infusion and many social opportunities into the community,” said Lee. “And as Helena increases its capacity to support and grow the arts, some residents – about five so far in the past couple of years – are choosing to stay here and make a life.”
The Archie Bray’s Second-Year Fellowship Exhibition runs from May 23 to August 30 at the Holter Museum of Art. Opening reception: Friday, May 29, 5 to 8 p.m. Featured work by Bray residents: Chris Dufala; Adam Field; Tom Jaszczak; Zemer Peled; and Joanna Powell.
From June 11 to August 2, the Bray Warehouse Gallery showcases its Resident Artist Exhibition.
Opening Reception: Thursday, June 11, 6–8 p.m. Free and open to the public.