By Alicia Stemper/Vitamin O for the Orange County Arts Commission
Chapel Hill’s Community Clay Studio is an incredible asset serving over 100 people a week. The facility is immediately behind the community center on Estes Drive, although access is from Plant Road off Franklin Street.
Nine potter’s wheels, three kilns, experienced instructors, and programming from the Parks and Recreation Department allow the 1500 square foot studio to contribute to the rich history of pottery in North Carolina. According to instructor Michelle Fairholm, that history grew in large part because clay artists and potters were drawn to North Carolina because “the clay in the soil, especially in the western part of the state, was already perfect and useable to them.” She calls the local scene “a lovely community” and notes that her classes have a nice mix of students at various levels of skill.
Younger potters take hand building classes; generally a student needs to be at least nine before they have the coordination to attempt using the electric, foot-pedal operated pottery wheels. Adults can take wheel throwing, Garden Arts, Ceramic Sculpture, and even a class called “Holy Smoke.” This class focuses on (among other things) ceremonial bowls and “imaginative guardians for hearth and home.” It concludes with a Saturday firing of student work. Some pieces are fired in a sawdust filled pit and others in a gas-fired outdoor Raku kiln.
Recreation supervisor Lizzie Burrill encourages folks to sign up early, especially for the most popular wheel throwing classes. Classes are enhanced by open studio time; any adult enrolled in a class can come practice in the facility twice a week for no additional charge. The registration fee covers instruction, studio time, and materials; financial assistance is available.