HCOA opens a new community art space and ceramics studio

What used to be a dark, cluttered and unfinished storage area in the basement of the Homer Council on the Arts building is now a warm and welcoming community art space, thanks to the efforts of numerous community members and funding from art grants.

Plans for renovating the basement have been in the works for the past 10 years, according to HCOA Director Scott Bartlett.

“There’s been a long intention to turn that area into a ceramics studio and fill that void in the community,” he shared. “We are excited to have finally been able to make this happen and the response has been very enthusiastic.”

Renovations took around a year and were completed at the end of 2021, transforming the 900-square-foot area into an open, light and airy space of white walls and 7-foot ceilings. Shelves overflow with paper, brushes, paints, bisques, glazes and clay tools, while paint-splattered tables rest in the middle of the room, and seven pottery wheels and one large kiln invite ceramic creativity.

Intended as a multi-purpose classroom and art space, classes have been under way for months, including Chinese Painting with Sharlene Cline and stained glass with Linda Vizenor. Local groups have been accessing the area for meetings and others have been renting the small audio video suite for their production needs. At the heart of this space is the ceramics studio, and since the beginning of November, community members have been reserving space during Open Studio Saturdays, intended for experienced potters, and signing up for classes available.

A massage therapist, Savanna Wilmarth took pottery classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage a few years ago and moved to Homer last spring. During an Open Studio in the new space, she was creating small bowls.

“Everyone needs something to do to express themselves, and I’m just so happy to be back in a studio,” she said.

PeggyEllen Kleinleder took ceramics in high school and college, and was creating hand built Christmas gifts.

“I’ve been away from ceramics for a while and I’m so grateful to have this space to hang out and do stuff with my hands, and especially this time of year,” she said.

A retired local teacher who took ceramics classes through Kachemak Bay Campus, Krista Etzwiler manages the studio, created the policies and procedures waivers for studio use, orchestrates instructors, schedules classes, acts as liaison between the instructors, and is in charge of loading and unloading the kiln and general oversight of the studio. She recently offered the studio’s first ceramics class, a one-session class where participants created pumpkins. In mid December, she’ll offer another one-session, two-hour class for adults, building and glazing winter trees.

“The thing about ceramics is that you can’t just pick it up and do it in your home studio or craft space because you have to have a kiln or wheel,” Etzwiler shared. “Homer has been seeking a community ceramics studio for a long time, and the feedback we’re getting is that people have wanted to try ceramics for a long time, and others have been away from it for a while and are eager to get back into a studio space. So here we are.”

Including Etzwiler, there are currently five teachers involved with the ceramics studio.

Sarah Julig facilitates Open Studios on Saturdays. She comes from a background of ceramic sculpture and installation work, as well as painting and drawing, and will teach hand building in the New Year.

“After Covid, we’ve lost a lot of places to gather and get together,” she said. “It’s nice and I think it’s important to have access to a studio and a creative space to gather with others.”

Robert Ostman works in construction and has been involved with ceramics for more than 20 years, teaching classes and workshops. He moved to Homer in 2018 and volunteered to help get the studio off the ground, participating in work parties with other volunteers and potters, like Tara Schmidt, Dave Kaufman, and Paul Dungan, to name just a few, building and organizing the space.

“A lot of equipment was donated, including a collection of equipment that had belonged to Edith Parsons, a longtime Homer potter, and others like Kaufman and I went through and make sure it all worked, organized tools, and got the space cleaned and ready,” Ostman said. “I’m excited to be a part of getting the studio off and running and providing space for the community to participate and learn something new. Ceramics is an art form that brings people joy in making things with their hands.”

At the studio, Ostman is teaching ceramics to grades K-2 and 3-6.

Other teachers include Olivia Philpot, the high school ceramics and art teacher, who offers adult beginning wheel throwing on Mondays, and Liz Carroll who will be teaching a three-week hand building series open to students grade 7 to adult. There are a number of limited scholarships available for youth classes, and while Open Studio for experienced wheel throwers is currently full, there is still space for hand building artists.

Ceramicist Paul Dungan helped to move equipment and served as an adviser, participating in an organizational meeting in which HCOA sought advice from local working potters.

“There’s a camaraderie among ceramic artists, and this is evidenced in the creation of this studio,” Dungan said. “A lot of people have given a lot of energy to it who won’t necessarily be running it or benefit from it. Jack Walsh got the high school studio established that was used for high school and college student classes, and I’m glad to see a community ceramics studio finally come together.”

While community efforts helped to bring the studio space to life, art grants spurred the entire project on, including from the Homer Foundation for equipment and supplies, Alaska State Council on the Arts for youth ceramic programs, and Alaska Community Foundation, part of the CARES relief grant for nonprofit organizations.

According to Bartlett, short-term goals for the space include expanding the ceramics program to include daytime classes for adults and home school students and Paint Your Pot classes, adding to the collection of glazes, and incorporating more storage space. Other goals include making the space more accessible, as it can only be currently accessed through a set of stairs. Down the road, depending on how much money the studio can put aside and additional grants HCOA can secure, the group would like to purchase newer and additional equipment.

“We’re just getting started and getting things up and running,” Bartlett said. “This space has a lot of potential.”

If community members would like to contribute to the new studio, HCOA is need of more shelving, a cubby or locker system for storage, and high stools for students working at high tables. Experienced potters who would like to teach, especially during the day, are also needed. Call Scott at 907-235-4288.

A schedule of classes, including for November and December, fees, and more information can be found at homerart.org where community members can also sign up for the e newsletter for regular updates.

Homer Council on the Arts, the backbone of Homer’s energetic arts community for 46 years and counting, is delighted to offer its new community art space to all.

Mother and daughter Rachel and Audrey Bartel hand build pumpkins on Nov. 3, 2022, at the Homer Council on the Art's new ceramics studio in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided)
Peggy Paver uses a pottery wheel on Nov. 3, 2022, at the Homer Council on the Art's new ceramics studio in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided)
These holiday tree ceramic sculptures are examples of work that will be made in a class to be offered on Dec. 13, 2022, at the new community art space at the Homer Council on the Arts. (Photo provided)