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Art guild terminates potters lease over insurance issues

Posted: June 25, 2014 - 10:21pm  |  Updated: June 26, 2014 - 2:36pm
The brick gas-fired kiln inside the Kenai Potters Guild is pictured. The Peninsula Art Guild terminated the lease. The space will need to be cleared out by September 30.  Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion
Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion
The brick gas-fired kiln inside the Kenai Potters Guild is pictured. The Peninsula Art Guild terminated the lease. The space will need to be cleared out by September 30.

After 41 years in the same space, the Kenai Potters Guild is homeless.

The guild shared a space with the Peninsula Art Guild at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town. However, the art guild board voted unanimously to remove the potters guild at a May 30 meeting after questions arose over the building’s insurance coverage and whether the potters guild was, or could be, included in that coverage.

Potters guild members were evicted with the notice that the art guild’s insurance did not and would not cover the potters guild and that lack of coverage could cause the City of Kenai to terminate the building lease, according to a resolution from the Peninsula Art Guild board.

In a letter to the potters guild dated June 6, Peninsula Art Guild secretary Joe Kashi listed several conditions accompanying the eviction including that the kilns used for making pottery could not be fired, members of the public were barred from entering the potters guild space and that the arts guild would file legal action to evict potters guild members if the terms of the lease termination were not met.

“Their activities put our own insurance at risk,” Kashi said. “It is unfortunate it had to happen this way. We are surprised and sorry to see them go.”

Laura Feo, president of the potters guild, said the art guild never made an attempt to inform them of their decision ahead of time.

“(Kashi) handed us an eviction letter and ordered the kilns to be shut down,” she said. “We have complied with everything thrown at us and we still haven’t been given a straight answer.”


The issue of insurance coverage for the potters guild went unnoticed for many years until the art center looked into prospective liability insurance at the request of the potters guild, a separate entity of the arts center, Kashi said.

It is unclear when communication between the art guild and its insurance company resulted in a revelation that the potters guild would not be covered.

Kashi said he was told via emails that potters guild would not be covered, however neither Kashi nor the insurance company would provide the emails said to contain that assessment.

When asked to provide emails verifying that the art guild’s insurance company would not cover the potters guild, Kashi said he was going through his emails from the insurance broker and that “they equivocate a little bit,” and that the insurance company told him that they would decide whether the potters guild would be covered after a claim had occurred, “which is no good for anybody,” he said.

Kashi provided fully redacted copies of emails exchanged between himself, a State Farm Insurance agent and an agent at Walters & Associates and Peninsula Art Guild board president Shauna Thornton. However, the content of those emails is unreadable.

Kashi said board members for the Kenai Fine Arts Center were shown the emails before they voted unanimously to evict the potters guild from the shared building.

The potters guild has since received five insurance quotes for its operations, said potters guild treasurer Karen Momell. While she declined to name the companies because the group members had yet to review them, she said they were all A rated and should satisfy the city requirements.


At issue are two kilns, one gas-fired, the other electric, that are used to heat and dry pottery after it is shaped.

According to Kashi’s letter to the potters guild, when insurance was obtained for the building, the usage was listed as an art gallery, a low risk operation. However, the pottery-making aspect, according to Kashi’s letter, was “very high risk industrial, generally uninsurable, type of operation by insurance companies,” and was not listed on the insurance agreement.

“As a result, we have been informed by the insurance companies that there is NO insurance coverage at this time for any fire or other building damage nor for injury that might occur as a result of the pottery operation. In the event of any fire or loss, there would be No coverage,” according to Kashi’s letter.

“There is a general consensus by both the insurance people and the engineers that the existing kiln, particularly the gas-fired kiln, is a serious fire hazard, not to mention a potentially serious carbon monoxide hazard for the entire building,” according to Kashi’s letter. “The art center/art guild is particularly concerned about the gas-fired kiln because of a recent fire-brick failure, the lack of adequate venting, the recent break/welding repair of the metail (sic) part of the gas kiln, and the ability to actually see flames through gaps in the fire brick wall when firing.”

Kenai Fire Marshall Eric Wilcox said he last inspected the Kenai Fine Arts Center in 2011, and Feo said he had inspected the building again after the potters guild was given notice of eviction.

Wilcox said he never deemed the kilns a fire hazard, but did make recommendations that were corrected by the potters guild.

“Kilns are not flammable,” Wilcox said. “The biggest thing is heat and newer kilns don’t get hot on the outside. As for the gas-fired kiln, carbon monoxide can get in the air in a close area but it is standard when operating to open a door and have a fan running for ventilation. They are safe and not anything to be afraid of.”

Kashi also contacted a retired North Slope safety engineer from Homer, David Green, to have a safety report completed. Green said Kashi sent him several photos of the kilns and surrounding areas and described the building operations.

“I know a little bit about the operations of kilns and kilns have certain problems and have to be built a certain way,” Green said.

From the photographs, Green said he identified a few potential hazards, specifically that certain particulates could escape from the kilns during the firing process and could cause breathing problems for those exposed. Ultimately, Green said, he suggested that the art guild do a detailed investigation to make sure that the kiln operations were safe, but he said the issues he pointed out were meant to be considered potential problems, not problems specific to the kilns located at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

The potters guild has used the space on a month-to-month sublease since 1973 and never had an incident, said Bill Holloway, husband of Becky Holloway, who has been a potters guild member for 17 years.

Anyone who fired the kilns went through training first and the doors were left open to allow proper ventilation when operating the gas kiln, Bill Holloway said.

“I trust experience over (Kashi’s) claim,” Bill Holloway said. “A lot of people are upset over the way it was done. It is a shame this had to happen the way it did.”

According to the resolution from the art guild, members of the potters guild have until the end of September to remove everything from the building. Anything left will be disposed.

Becky Holloway wasted no time in removing her items from the gallery. Her ceramic art was supposed to be on display in the main gallery through the month of June. In the pottery building, shelves of ceramic art have already been removed.

She said she removed her art “as more of a reaction, and to make a statement.”

“I would like to see this resolved in a positive manner so others can take advantage of having a place to learn pottery,” she said.

The potters guild held classes in wheel throwing and hand forming in their studio space. Currently it is the only group on the Kenai Peninsula that teaches pottery. While membership for the potters guild is about 10 people, Bill Holloway said, the space was never underutilized.

Feo runs a small business and said she uses the kilns to make pottery she sells at farmers markets.

“I have basically been put out of business,” she said. “This is my livelihood. (The art guild) claims to support local artists but here they are putting us out of work.”

Nelson, founder of the art guild, said the pottery guild is a special place for ceramic artists and part of several members’ livelihood.

“This is a valuable community resource,” Nelson said.

According to the letter from Kashi to the potters guild, if members fire between now and September, the City of Kenai is willing to direct ENSTAR Natural Gas Company to cut off the gas and the art center would disable electricity to the electric kilns.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said if someone fired the kilns after he or she was ordered not to, he wasn’t sure what he would do.

The city has a contractual relationship with the art guild and expects the insurance requirements contained in the lease agreement to be upheld, he said.

Koch said he was unaware of the art guild’s subleasing agreement with the potters guild. The Kenai Fine Art Center leases its space from the city for $1 per year. Bill Holloway said the potters guild paid $150 per month for rent, not including utilities.

Moving on

Kashi also said after extensive discussions, the City of Kenai told the art guild about several grants that might be available to make the pottery space available for workshops for other art groups.

Becky Holloway said she is unsure what the next step for the potters guild will be. The group recently met to discuss the search for a new space and insurance options.

Clayton Hillhouse, art guild board member, attended the potters guild meeting. He said people asked him questions about the insurance coverage and he handed out information on prospective insurance.

“When I first walked in, I was looked at as the enemy,” Hillhouse said. “I answered their questions, put things in perspective and they were very courteous. I got a lot of hugs afterwards.”

Feo said in her mind the potters guild has done what they can to rectify the issue and some of the board members have been helpful and reasonable. While the potters guild has previously talked about moving into a larger space prior to this situation, she said four months is not enough time for them to find a new space.

Kashi said the potters are a small group of the overall art community, but will be missed. The art guild and city plan to help find a new place for the group to continue operations, hopefully in a larger and less crowded space, he said.

“These things are always difficult,” Kashi said. “People tend to see their own concerns. I am trying to make things straightforward so there are no misunderstandings … There are many other groups currently without access to studio space. We will repurpose the space.”


Reach Dan Balmer at and Rashah McChesney at

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marionknelson 06/27/14 - 09:45 am
Guild clarifications

There are more like 35-40 in the Potter's Guild, not just 10 as reported in this article.

I am one of the people who helped start the Kenai Art Guild in the 60's not the only "founder." The Peninsula Art Guild is the name of the current group.

I hope the Peninsula Art Guild Board of Directors will do the right thing for the good of the Kenai Fine Arts Center. Loosing the pottery studio will diminish the artistic value of the Center and if they move out of Kenai, it will be an historic loss to the City. Over 40 years of pottery making, terrific workshops on a wide variety of related topics/methods, classes and skill building in all areas of the wonderfully complex pottery making process. And it has spawned numerous independent studios by individual potters who went on to create their own small businesses. The potters spend more time in the Center than any other group and have contributed to its income with their pottery in the retail area (it's the top seller), donations to the fall Harvest Auction and paying monthly rent.
FYI, the gas kiln is fired once or twice a month, and occasionally three times and some months not at all.
Bottom line, the kilns are insurable here as has been proven, and in millions of other locations.

Suss 06/28/14 - 08:10 am
Thank you Ms. Nelson

Might I suggest finding a mediator to work through the internal problems at the center of this nonsense?

Communication breakdown, a paper coup, power struggle or personality clash that needs to be addressed in house and without more public noise.

This hurts the very finest part of the art world in Kenai. So, so sad.

Please find a person to help make sense to those needing assistance with getting along.

The Redoubt Reporter did a very nice piece about the potters.—-potters-guild-shows-sells-recent-work/

justice 06/27/14 - 01:20 pm
It seems lawyers and

It seems lawyers and insurance companies ruin everything! This is a great loss for the community.

pkmcclain 06/27/14 - 02:03 pm
Potter's Guild

The news about the problems between the KAG and Potter's Guild brought me great sadness. It was at the Potter's Studio at the old fire station in Kenai where I was introduced to my new passion and occupation 27 years ago. How fortunate we have been to have this valuable studio and the people who work there in our midst for 40 years.
A lovely symbiotic relationship which has been shaken to its core by one individual. In a previous comment someone suggested a mediator. Well, I believe the mediator should be the city manager/City of Kenai. You, the city, have a cultural gem in your midst and you should find a way to make these two groups exist again in harmony. Either the city needs to get involved or the KAG board needs to reexamine 40 years of shared memory and hard work and see what more important: the health of the arts community or the ulterior motives of one individual.

The Potter's Cabin
The Potter's Cabin 06/27/14 - 04:23 pm
My Insider View

I took my first pottery class at the Kenai Potters Guild in 2010. I am the guild secretary and know we have 41 current members. The Potters Guild is a growing and viable group who has a rare skill to pass on to our community. It’s a great place to learn from other potters!

Since then I have attended at least eight more classes or workshops from the potters guild and many others outside the guild. Pottery has one of the longest or steepest learning curves and isn’t something that can be completed in a few days or weeks.

The Kenai Potters Guild is a teaching guild. The classes are relatively low in cost, but a student must practice this art and sit under the tutelage of an experienced Instructor before firing any of the kilns, either electric or gas. It may take a student 2 – 5 years or more before they feel ready to fire a kiln. Once the student states they are ready, they must get approval from the board to deem they are up to the task. Once the board has given their approval the student will be required to assist with three complete firing processes. One firing consists of three phases, which can span the time of two weeks starting with green-ware, and then bisque pieces are waxed and glazed, then loaded and fired in the gas kiln; two days later pieces are unloaded.
Certifying a potter may take as long as one year or as little as three months, depending on the level of readiness. I received my certification in October of 2012 under the tutelage of Becky Holloway. Since then I have fired approximately 20 full loads. I use this skill to help other potters and the community. Firing the gas kiln spans four days. So volunteering to fire the kiln to help get the soup bowls fired for the Food Bank’s Soup Supper Auction is no easy task, yet we all pitch in and work together for the good of the community. I feel as though I have been given a gift and I want to continue passing that on.

I’m not out to make the Art Center look bad in anyway. I just don’t understand why they didn't notify the potters of any lacking insurance; we ARE insurable. The potters SUB-lease the room from the Art Center, who should have communicated this need to us before handing us eviction papers. If you support the Kenai Potters Guild, I would encourage you to leave a good note about us here. Also contact the Art Center (907-283-7040) and let them know how you feel about this sudden eviction that caught the potters by surprise.
Thank you!

jford 06/27/14 - 06:49 pm
Peninsula Art Guild Secretary.

I had no idea there was that much intrigue, or that the Art Guild secretary would act as if he were covering up for an illegal invasion or something, producing fully redacted emails?

What, he thinks there may be yellow cake being processed in these kilns?

I think maybe part of the solution should involve a change in secretary. ( the least, curb the overblown sense of power the secretary position carries.)

Tammi 06/27/14 - 06:50 pm
From President Laura Faeo's KSRM interview:

Posted: June 26, 2014 at 12:32 pm

President of the guild Laura Faeo said they requested a look into the insurance when a guest asked to do a class and wanted to know if they would be covered. She said what it led to was completely unexpected.

kelmin 06/28/14 - 09:47 am
Potter's Guild

Something just seems fishy about this whole deal. It seems that no one is talking to anyone. I feel that the loss of the Potter's Guild at the Art Center would be a loss for the community. I'd like to see some type of mediation between the two groups.

emanuela_pokryfki 06/28/14 - 11:07 pm
Potters Guild, a precious place for our community and the Arts

I have been a member of the Kenai Potters Guild since 2009 when I moved to the peninsula and for the first time in my life I was able to learn this beautiful art from a variety of very talented master potters. This Guild reminded me of the ancient Guilds, where masters and apprentices worked together passing on knowledge and expertise, forging future artists.
I have great respect and admiration for this organization and all its members, past and present (41 at this time), for all it has done for the community of the Kenai Peninsula as promoter of Fine Arts with people of various ages and talents, and for its active and helpful role supporting individuals in need or events organized by no-profit organizations such as the annual Harvest Auction organized by Peninsula Art Guild (former Kenai Fine Arts Center) and the annual Soup Supper and Auction organized by the Kenai Food Bank (KPG has provided the greatest amount of the bowls for this event for may years).

KPG is a unique gem and right now it needs help from the community for finding a way or a place where the potters can keep doing their work, and where new novices can be initiated to this beautiful ancient art.

If you want to support the Kenai Potters Guild in finding a stable home, please contact the Kenai Art Center (907-283-7040) and the City of Kenai sharing your thoughts.

Please help the kilns firing again soon, lots of people count on them!

Emanuela Pokryfki

leewaytooo 06/29/14 - 02:46 am
interesting that the art

interesting that the art center only pays $1 a yr to the city.

and was charging the potter's $150 a mth...not including

utilities... to sub lease space.

Kashi’s letter, was “very high risk industrial, generally uninsurable, type of operation by insurance companies,” and was not listed on the insurance agreement.

"generally uninsurable"...

insurance companies will insure just about anything for the

right price....

seems that it could have been handled better.

having the potters cease operations and obtain insurance,

would have worked..

lawyers and art, seems like opposites.

"Please find a person to help make sense to those needing assistance with getting along."

could we get a witness??????

JoeRay Skrha_Attorney at Law
JoeRay Skrha_Attorney at Law 06/29/14 - 05:11 pm
Kenai Potters Guild Suggestion

The Law Office of Joe Ray Skrha has agreed to assist the Kenai Potters Guild in hopes of reaching an agreement with the Peninsula Art Guild. We have submitted a detailed letter to the Peninsula Art Guilds Attorney, Mr. Kashi in hopes of working out an agreement that will allow the Potters Guild to know what is being required of them. Assuming they can produce an insurance policy, there would be no reason to evict The Kenai Potters Guild as the Kenai Fire Marshall has already inspected their kilns and found them safe... Lets hope the Peninsula Art Guild and Mr. Kashi does not have a hidden agenda whereby the allegation of a missing insurance policy is only a pretext to justify the eviction of the Kenai Potters Guild...

Raoulduke 07/02/14 - 08:34 pm

Sounds to me that Mr. Kashi, and a few members of the Peninsula Art Guild.Have their own personal agenda.I just do not see .How you could have improved on a proven working situation.

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