I have a passion for clay – functional pottery, ceramics, sculpture, you name it. I studied this medium while attending MSU and honestly, I knew I could never carve out a living in ceramics. I just wasn’t that good at it. That said, imagine my good fortune to land a job in Helena after college, home to the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts, where I’ve spent countless hours in this enriching environment.
What started as the Western Clay Manufacturing Co. would morph into a pottery studio back in 1951 by Archie Bray, a man with a passion for the arts. Montana natives Peter Voulkos and Rudy Autio would become the first managers of the studio, and would eventually rise to become well respected, revered names in the field of ceramics. Many have found their way to this institution, including notable ceramicists Akio Takamori, Wayne Higby and Jun Kaneko.
At first appearance, the 26 acre complex of Archie Bray would appear to be a hodgepodge of old brick buildings, historic beehive kilns overgrown by vegetation, sculptures any direction you look, and a scattering of pottery and ceramic artifacts. Keep in mind all you see is truly a legacy left behind and carefully placed by those 650 plus artists from around the world that have passed through the Bray. You’ll get to understand the rich history of this place by wandering the grounds – every nook and cranny in this outdoor museum holds yet another treasure.
Today, “the Bray”, as locals refer to the complex, is made up of many moving parts. There is a full service clay business, where the public can buy tools, glazes, equipment, forms and nineteen wet clay bodies. Those that run the clay business are also artists, and share their expertise of the technical side of ceramics/kilns through educational seminars. There are sales and artist galleries, with rotating exhibitions ongoing. A state-of-the-art resident facility currently houses studios for each of the 10 full-time artists in residence. Older brick buildings are used for the community classes offered throughout the year.
The Bray’s tagline “dedicated to the enrichment of the ceramic arts” is clearly evident in that each of their resident artists receives a fellowship award of $5,000 per year to help with their expenses. Add to that a summer program which brings in another 10 or so artists for a period of 3-4 months, and you’ve got creativity oozing out of the Foundation. If you want to see mind-boggling ingenuity and some crazy things being done with clay, wander the studios and talk to the artists – visitors are warmly welcomed.
One of the Bray’s most popular events is the Mother’s Day Pots and Plants Sale in early May, where the Bray teams up with Farm in the Dell (a Helena based self-supporting farming home for the disabled), to offer up original pieces of work colorfully adorned with either flowers or plants. Not to be missed is the Annual Benefit Auction and Brickyard Bash (July 25), for a chance to celebrate and support the Bray with both live and silent auctions, handmade pizza in a wood fired oven, and music by the popular Big Sky Mudflaps.
These days, the Bray has become a place to reconnect with that medium I love so well, and most importantly, to recharge my creativity. I’ve availed myself of the community classes and love the comradery that develops with like-minded folks. I’m here by choice, not trying to make a living, or get college credits – now it’s just pure delight to sink my hands into clay.
Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts
2915 Country Club Ave
Helena, MT 59602