Clay Co-Op lets aspiring sculptors get their hands dirty

Clay Co-Op lets aspiring sculptors get their hands dirty

Photo courtesy of Chandler Padgett. 

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” plays on an old stereo as people across the room interact with one another. Clay-dust is ubiquitous. Dozens of works stand drying on shelves as their creators begin the construction process anew. They’re united by one thing: the love of clay

For the past six years, the clay co-op at Kentuck Art Center has been a place where those who appreciate the art of sculpture and pottery can gather and work, regardless of age or experience.

“I have my own studio, but the reason I continue to be a member of the co-op is all these people, and you can come here, there’s lots of people here with different talents and different skills,” Jo Ann Gentine, one of the original members of the co-op, said, “and it’s a place where you can talk pottery with other members and get ideas and share ideas.”

Though the co-op started with used and loaned equipment, over the years they acquired better equipment with the help of Kentuck. And, over the past 6 years, the co-op has grown greatly, reaching 30 members.

“We started off with some growing pains, I guess not knowing what we wanted to be or do. And then, we started to get a lot more members, and we’re at capacity now, we actually have a waiting list,” Gentine said.

The co-op costs $55 a month, which covers all costs except for clay; the price is $35 for students. For those interested, one of the members teaches 3 lessons for $120.

In addition to having a studio space, the group goes to festivals to sell their wares together.

“We went to Kentuck festival the first year we were here. We were actually pretty pathetic, we had a little table of beginner-type stuff. We’ve gone every year and gotten better and better and better,” Gentine said. “And now we have shelves we put together, we had a really nice display last year, 25 different artists selling their stuff. It’s just kind of evolved and gotten real popular.”

True to their name, the members of the cooperative share cleaning duties and do most tasks themselves. Although many of the members are retired, a few younger people and students are involved. And, with all of the activities they do and time they spend together, the diverse group has formed a strong bond together.

“This place has really helped me a lot,” Darlene Labrador, who joined in 2014, said. “The camaraderie is just wonderful. There isn’t anything somebody can’t help you with, and they’re always very encouraging.”

Another one of the original members is Hayes Dobbins, who has an art degree in sculpture. She’s different from the other members in that she uses local clay from Hurricane Creek.

“To me, it’s getting closer to the earth, because I start from the earth, and get it. I totally transform it into the clay, and then I transform it into my sculptures,” Dobbins said, scraping roots and rocks from the mud. “After I bisque fire my sculptures, I put them in a pit and fire them with wood to get a modeled, smoky look, almost like raccoon. And it grounds me, it helps me stay closer to the earth, not flying around there in my head.”

Dobbins usually makes dresses and other figures.

“A long time ago I started thinking about emergence, and then things that change your shape. And I came into thinking about the metamorphosis of people kind of emerging, and then that came into the corset, the bodice, because that changes shape,” Dobbins said. “Usually they’re empty bodices so you can use them as a vase, but they’re empty…because that metamorphosis of the human has come out.”

Judy Wheeler, who worked as a school counselor before she retired, joined around the same time as Labrador. She hand builds angels, bird houses, and nativity scenes for the most part.

“I was actually surprised how much I enjoy art. That’s something I never got a chance to do, so I thought I’m retired now, it’s what I want to do. I took several classes in oils and acrylic painting,” Wheeler said. “And I enjoy those too, but nothing like getting your hands dirty in clay.”

For Labrador, the co-op is a creative outlet.

“It’s just great to be creative—it keeps that part of your brain going,” Labrador said.

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