Early in 2020, before COVID-19 hit Philly hard, The Clay Studio began to break ground on a new state-of-the-art ceramic facility in the South Kensington neighborhood. According to the Studio, the new facility will help propel the nonprofit organization forward as a national leader in ceramics and will also serve as a mecca for local residents and artists in the City of Brotherly Love.
Now, the artistic organization has announced the first major exhibit in the historic organization’s new facility.
The Clay Studio first started in Old City in 1974 with only five artists on their roster. In the present day, however, The Clay Studio features a collaborative fellowship of artists, teachers, and professional staff serving 35,000 people a year. One of the main goals of the new facility will be to continue to deepen relationships between The Clay Studio and the South Kensington community, and in recent years, the organization has expanded its educational programming in the neighborhood to include artist-led workshops, classes, and discussions to better understand culture and place.
The new building’s design also helps strengthen that transparent relationship with an intentionally open and publicly accessible ground floor, dedicated classrooms for after-school youth programs, new spaces for year-round public events, and new headquarters for The Claymobile program. Also included in the designs are larger classrooms, state-of-the-art studios, an outdoor sculpture garden, and new gallery spaces.
According to a release, the inaugural exhibition at the new building, ‘Making Place Matter’, will feature works by South Kensington-based artist Kukuli Velarde and artists Ibrahim Said and Molly Hatch. The show encourages visitors to explore the meaning of place. Even before the doors open, “place” plays an essential role in how The Clay Studio has approached their move. The Clay Studio formed an Exhibition Council that included Kensington neighbors, artist Cesar Viveros, community organizer Iris Brown, and cultural partners, including Norris Square Neighborhood Partners. Together, the Exhibition Council is building a new community-centered curatorial model for The Clay Studio.
“‘Making Place Matter’ launches a new era for The Clay Studio,” said Executive Director Jennifer Martin in a statement. “By linking these powerful works that weave together personal history, cultural legacy, and social justice with hands-on experiences with clay, we can inspire transformative experiences in our new space.”
The $13.7 million capital campaign has expanded its services and spaces by 67 percent, paving the way for new possibilities for studio art, arts education, and community engagement. This model of communal engagement is also shown through The Clay Studio’s Community Studio, a space in the new building for exhibition visitors to engage in hands-on art-making. The Community Studio became possible through a partnership with Tiny WPA, and ‘Making Place Matter’ will officially mark the first time that The Clay Studio’s personal studio offerings and the exhibitions will be linked.
According to the release, The Clay Studio’s staff are also working with Kensington publisher, ‘The Head and The Hand’ to release a ‘Making Place Matter’ catalog. A symposium will be held in early 2022, allowing for further discussion about the connections between clay and place. The exhibition draws on stories from three continents; issues of colonization, a generations-long family ritual of making, and an ancestral immigration story. For Velarde, Said and Hatch, this new space will offer the chance to connect with visitors on a personal level. Each ‘Making Place Matter’ artist – Velarde, Said, and Hatch – will hold two- week residencies at The Clay Studio, offering audiences direct access to the artists in relation to their work.
Velarde calls the South Kensington neighborhood home, and the Peruvian-born artist’s Incan-inspired sculptures take the form of babies that “channel fragility, power, and tenderness all at once.” Said’s work is also inspired by his roots. The artist allows his lattice-like and geometric work to be influenced by skills that were passed down from his father’s work in a centuries-old Egyptian pottery town. The result shows inspiration by the traditional Islamic mashrabiya, an architectural screen that merges decoration and function. Lastly, Hatch’s grand-scale “plate paintings” take historical patterns – often from porcelain plates – as their source. According to the release, the seamlessly merging the past with the present, Hatch enlarges traditional ornament, mixing her sources until they are vaulted into near-abstraction.
For more information on The Clay Studio’s new facility and its first exhibition set to hit in Fall 2021, visit theclaystudio.org