Former city pottery studio re-opens as Scenic City Clay Arts
FOR 25 YEARS, THE CITY OF CHATTANOOGA OPERATED THE John A. Patten Pottery Studio in Lookout Valley. But with debate over the proposed elimination of the Education, Arts and Culture Department came cries to end city funding—despite public testimonials from many people about how much the studio had contributed to their lives. Last July, after the EAC got its pink slip, the studio closed.
But as far as a group of clay devotees are concerned, that was just the beginning of a new chapter. In August, the space re-opened under its new name, Scenic City Clay Arts (SCCA), operating without any civic funding. Those who used the studio, both past and present, donated their own money and time to make the re-opening possible.
The group’s mission: “Citizens coming together to sustain the art of clay, through education and practice, at an affordable price.”
“There was a group that was not willing to let the studio go. In the last seven years, participation had tripled,” says David Chambers, a potter who heads the “club” that saved the space. “We are now leasing the studio and the equipment from the city, at a very fair rate. We are responsible for maintaining the equipment,” consisting of 10 wheels, slab roller and extruder and kilns.
The club intends to formally incorporate as a nonprofit, which will enable it to apply for grants. But in the meantime, it isn’t letting the glaze grow under its feet. SCCA is open five days a week, and continues to offer multiple classes in hand-building and wheel throwing. “Our goal is to have the studio be available to all, from professional level to kids just getting started in clay,” Chambers says. He points out that it typically costs from $6,000 - $7,000 to create a pottery studio space, and that many budding artists and craftsmen cannot afford that. For young people, SCCA is working with the new city Department of Youth and Family Development to identify inner-city kids eligible for five full scholarships and five partial scholarships for next year’s summer camps.
Another goal is to spread the word about what the studio offers and how convenient it actually is. “We’re really only a few minutes from downtown Chattanooga,” Chambers points out. Besides classes, the SCCA offers four-hour studio sessions for $15. Group members make all of the more than 20 glazes available for both in-studio use and for sale for use elsewhere. All the glazes, with one exception, are food- and dishwasher-safe, and Chambers notes that a beautiful red glaze has just been added to those offered. Twenty-five-pound bags of clay, brought in from Asheville, are sold for $30, which includes both bisque and glaze firings. As soon as the right space can be found for it, raku firing will be available as well.
The six-week classes meet twice weekly; hand-building costs $175 and wheel throwing, $200 (each with an additional $30 charge for clay). “All the instructors love taking their knowledge and sharing it with others,” Chambers says, laughing a little that “some people are still after the ‘Ghost’ experience, but there’s much more to it than that.”
Working in clay is, in fact, primal—a completely different experience than creating a graphic on a computer. It’s the ultimate hands-on: messy, serendipitous and satisfying. Chambers relates how reluctant he was to publicly show a piece that had an accidentally off-center neck. Yet when he did take the piece to the Chattanooga Market, it was the first one that sold that day. Asked why she chose it, the customer said, “I love that the neck is off-center.”
The SCCA is offering a free chance to try hand-building or the wheel, along with a special kids’ station, at its official “Grand Opening” on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members’ work will be for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going back to the studio.
Scenic City Clay Arts, 3202 Kellys Ferry Rd. (corner of Browns Ferry and Cummings Hwy.) (423) 260-0255. Studio hours: 3 – 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 1 – 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday.