Carbondale Clay Center marks 20 years of shaping lives |

Carbondale Clay Center marks 20 years of shaping lives

If you go

A Visual History: 20 years of Clay and Community

Friday, 6-8 p.m. Cohosted by Marble Distilling Company and Inn.

Settings: 20th anniversary fete

Sept. 9, 6-9 p.m. Carbondale Clay Center’s biggest fundraiser of the year includes a sit-down dinner, cocktails, live music and more.

Carbondale Clay Center, 135 Main St. | $100 anniversary fete | 963-2529 |

Every morning, I pour a cup of coffee into a handmade mug that reminds me of my dearest friends.

These friends came from all over the country, but we’re connected by one place: the Carbondale Clay Center.

The Clay Center will celebrate its 20th anniversary this month. The funky little green building on the east end of Main Street was my home away from home for the past three years. It’s where I could be creative and where I could go to escape the grind of my life. Maybe most importantly, it’s where I could be myself.

I was introduced to the Clay Center when I was the arts editor of the Post Independent in fall 2014. I stopped by in advance of that year’s holiday show to meet with then-director Jill Oberman for an article on the exhibit. I loved how intimate the space was and how welcome I felt. The Clay Center has some of the highest-quality art you can find in the valley, with none of the pretension.

At the time, I was in full-on self-discovery mode—I was trying everything from ballet to online law courses. So I decided to sign up for a clay class.

The funny thing about my relationship with the Clay Center is how long it took to blossom into the true love it is now.

I got the sense that I was supposed to really like throwing on the wheel, but in truth, I really didn’t. It was frustrating and messy, and I felt discouraged when I didn’t see swift improvement. I sent pots home to my mom, who told me she loved them but consistently asked, “But what is it?”

I was shy in my first class, and I didn’t talk to anyone—except my teacher, with whom I flirted in the most embarrassingly obvious way. (It turns out it worked, though; like the gentleman he is, he waited until the end of our last class to ask me out.)

I decided I didn’t want to take another clay class, but I did want to date my teacher! So I stayed connected to the Clay Center that way, and soon I had a whole new group of friends with whom to go to trivia nights at Beer Works or watch “Game of Thrones” every Sunday.

More often than not, though, we just hung out at the Clay Center. I was there all the time, helping to load and unload kilns, or put a coat of clear glaze over some pieces from a kid’s birthday party, or anything else I was asked to do.

I never missed a First Friday opening, and over time my ceramics collection began to grow. I started to understand what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to interact with works of art in such a tactile way.

I spent Thanksgiving with Clay Center Executive Director Angela Bruno’s family, where every plate, cup and serving dish was handmade. As we set the table, Angela would tell us about the artist and the story behind the piece. It made the meal so special because it felt like the makers of the work were there with us, too, and we were all thankful for one another.

Eventually, I got the urge to give clay another try. I’ve taken various classes over the years at both the Clay Center and CMC Aspen. I’m still no good, but I’ve learned to appreciate the process and worry less about the end result.

Almost every one of my friends in the valley is in my life because of this funky green building, and I am far from the only person whose friendships are based on a relationship with the Clay Center. This place is the very definition of a community art center.

I left Colorado last month and moved to Chicago. Of all the things I miss about the valley, I miss the Clay Center and all the people who come along with it the most.

But they’re with me every morning when I pour a cup of coffee into a handmade mug, pause, smile and sip.

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