Carbondale Clay Center director helps make art world go ’round |

Carbondale Clay Center director helps make art world go ’round

Trina Ortega
Carbondale Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Trina Ortega/Valley JournalCarbondale artist and director of the Carbondale Clay Center Lauren Kearns decorates a porcelain jar in her studio.

CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Ever since she was a young, strong-willed child, Lauren Kearns knew she would be a fine artist.

“I had announced when I was 4 that I wanted to be an artist, and I remember it because my father threw a fit,” Kearns said of her biological dad who wanted her to be a secretary.

As the director of the Carbondale Clay Center, Kearns is still as disciplined when it comes to her own art in ceramics but also aims to get others excited about clay.

“I try to make the clay center into as welcoming a place as possible. That’s most important, to make it a welcoming place to everyone,” Kearns said.

Kearns always is eager to invite members of the community into the 10-year-old center for classes, workshops, First Friday exhibit openings, private parties, student projects or whatever artistic pursuit is needed.

“We’re here for the community,” she has said time and again.

Another important aspect of the center under Kearns’ tenure has been the artist-in-residence program, which employs three nine-month resident artists and a two-year studio technician.

“The first year I was here, that building sat empty,” she said of the center at 135 Main St. on the east edge of town. “When I started, a friend of mine had given me the advice to just listen. I spent my first year listening to people, asking what they thought and what they wanted out of the center.”

In addition to offering studio space for its resident artists, a few local potters spend their spare time in small private spaces among the hubbub of the adults and children enrolled in the summer and winter programs.

Her main goal as director is also simply to “get people addicted,” she said, or at least excited about clay.

Kearns first became interested in clay when she was 17. Although she originally thought she’d be a painter, she loved the earthy medium from that first moment she touched it in high school.

“I was so excited, I went to my high school art teacher and said I wanted to throw pots,” Kearns said.

Although her family was not heavily religious, “it was a very untraditional thing to do for a young Jewish girl,” she said of her push to pursue the arts.

“I was determined. I had a very strong will. And I was very lucky; when my mom remarried it was to someone who was very, very supportive,” she said.

Her determination led her to the competitive Kansas City Art Institute, to grad school in Oregon and to receive a prestigious Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts residency in Montana. While trying to make a go of it as a ceramics artist, she also held other jobs in a number of cities in the west, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Enumclaw, Wash., at the base of Mount Rainier.

In 2004, she moved from Santa Barbara, Calif., where she was taking care of her ailing dad, to Carbondale to take the helm at the clay center.

Her love for clay has never wavered, but she said the life of a professional artist is difficult to lead. Only half joking, she advises those interested in being a fine artist to “marry a rich person or marry a person who has a job.”

“Here’s your art,” she said, holding one hand at eye level. “Everything in your life supports this main thing you have to do. If you can’t, it’s not for you. It’s not an easy life to live. It really isn’t. It’s not normal.”

Yet, there’s no doubt in her mind that the world needs those “rare birds,” especially in a time when people are so removed because of technology.

“I think people need to live with art. I think it’s really essential. I just think it makes me happy, it enriches my life,” she said.

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