Carol Walkiewicz works on a project in the pottery studio at the Kenai Fine Arts Center. The former jail and fire station is a haven for both artists and art lovers.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Making pottery can be an exacting artistic endeavor or simply an experience of playing in muck and sometimes a little of both.
"It's great for former mud pie builders. I used to make mud pies when I was a kid. When you come in here, its almost the same thing," said Donna Steele about the pottery studio in the Kenai Fine Arts Center. "... You're always excited when you come in here what you're going to create, whether it's going to be something great or not."
The Kenai Potters Guild was formed in 1981 to take over managing and maintaining the pottery studio in the Kenai Fine Arts Center. Since that time, the group has grown to 44 members, many of whom utilize the studio.
People's reasons for coming to the studio are myriad. For some it's to be around others with similar interests.
"(It's) the camaraderie of being with other people that share your enthusiasm and love and creativity," said Patty Colburn, gallery attendant at the center.
Others want to learn the craft so they come to take classes or learn on their own with the help of fellow potters.
"Everybody is encouraged to help the newest people working with clay," said Carol Walkiewicz, a guild member.
Walkiewicz carries pots to a wheel as Patty Colburn work on a bowl last week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The equipment is another big draw for people. Over the years, through fund-raising, grants, membership fees and members' own hard work, the studio has been outfitted with kilns, electric and kick wheels, a slab roller, work table, shelving covering most the wall space, a spray glaze booth and other additions. All told the studio boasts thousands of dollars of equipment capable of making stoneware pottery strong enough to be heated in a microwave or slowly in an oven. Outfitting a similarly-equipped private studio is not feasible for more potters.
"Everything that you can do in pottery you can go from beginning to end in here, which is nice," Walkiewicz said.
Then there's the draw of pottery, itself.
"There's something about the clay, it really grabs you," Walkiewicz said. "We have painters and drawers (who come in) but there's something about the 3-D form."
To use the studio, people must be members of the Kenai Potters Guild, which is $10 a year, and pay a studio use fee, which is $5 for a day, $10 for a week or $30 a month. Firing in the kilns costs extra. The studio also sells tools if people need them and orders clay and the necessary ingredients to mix up a rainbow of glaze colors.
Anyone is welcome to join and use the studio, or simply drop by and watch what goes on. In the summer potters usually leave the doors open while they work, especially if the kiln is being used, and tourists often wander in while exploring Old Town. Many comment on how amazing it is to see such a well-equipped community pottery studio in Kenai.
"I think they exist around, but I don't think (studios like the guild's) are that common at all," Walkiewicz said.
Peninsula people's desire for such a place to create art may have something to do with the long winters here, Walkiewicz said. People are so close that they like getting together and expressing their creativity.
Whether it's creating artwork to display and sell, a mug to hold their morning coffee or an imaginative little creature to join the row of other "kiln gods" that watch over the studio, there's plenty of projects for potters to pursue in the studio. Steele keeps a list of things she wants to make in her pocket.
"At night I go to bed dreaming about what I'm going to do," she said.
Even if someone isn't inspired with a subject, the Kenai Potters Guild donates pottery to many organizations for auctions or raffle prizes, so there's always a need for people to make things for charity. Right now the push is on to create hundreds of bowls for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank's annual Soup Supper and Auction fund-raiser.
"There's things going on that's really neat and really interesting for the community to join," Walkiewicz said.
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