-Courtesy of En Route Marketing
On April 8, The Clay Studio’s new state-of-the-art, 34,000-square foot home at 1425 North American Street opens in the heart of Philadelphia’s South Kensington neighborhood. The facility, designed by DIGSAU, will be the first-of-its-kind ceramic arts facility built from the ground up in the United States.
The Clay Studio, established in 1974, is a non-profit arts institution dedicated to promoting and developing ceramic arts. Over nearly five decades, The Clay Studio has grown from a collective of five artists to a thriving collaborative fellowship of artists, teachers, and professional staff serving 35,000 people each year with the highest quality artistic, educational, and community programs.
The massive project is the culmination of a $14.5 million capital campaign. Significant support for the project included an allocation of New Markets Tax Credits from Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), with additional financing from Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Reinvestment Fund, and Wells Fargo. Major support for The Clay Studio’s new facility came from the Windgate Foundation, William Penn Foundation, The Zeldin Family Foundation, The Kamens Family, Brian E Daggett & Franz J Rabauer, The Jill & Sheldon Bonovitz Foundation, Marie & Joe Field, Connelly Foundation, Nancy Scheller Hays, Michael A. Lukasek, City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce Neighborhood Funding Stream, Marlin & Regina Miller, Linda J. Jacobsen, Richard & Dale Levy, Fleur S. Bresler, and Penn Treaty SSD. The broad-based campaign attracted 367 community residents, artists, and students.
In the heart of one of the city’s most vibrant arts corridors, the new four-story facility allows The Clay Studio to expand its services and spaces by 67%, paving the way for vast new possibilities for studio art, arts education, and community and youth engagement. Additionally, artists will enjoy a 27% increase in Resident Artist studio space and a 193% increase in classroom space. The additional square footage increase allows visitors to view 600 pieces from the permanent collection, never before displayed.
The Design– “When the architects (DIGSAU) were thinking about their vision for this new architectural landmark’s building facade, the inspiration was patchwork and multiple layers coming together,” says Jennifer Martin, Executive Director of The Clay Studio. “The multiple layers of the brickwork relate to the process of working in clay; building community is also about the process. We hope to develop layers of support and trust with our new community.”
Textural buff-colored bricks across the front of the building reference the unglazed bisqueware pottery produced after a single kiln firing. This neutral backdrop is highlighted by bright accents of orange glazed bricks marking critical public spaces within the building. Philadelphia’s early 20th-century warehouses
provide the language for the building’s expressive but straightforward facade, connecting the building to the city’s tradition of masonry construction and referencing a golden era of manufacturing and craft. Traditional brickwork elements such as “raking” and “corbelling” are reinterpreted at a monumental scale to create a richly textured, undulating facade highlighted by vivid shadows tracking the sun’s movement throughout the day.
The Clay Studio engaged and worked with local businesses on the look and outfit of the interior of the building. Local companies that helped shape The Clay Studio’s appearance include Tiny WPA, Milder Furniture, Cofco, Millwork Innovations, In Motion Designs, Ceramic Shop, and T Frank McCalls.
“Place” has been an essential theme to The Clay Studio since its inception as a space for shared creativity around clay. The building’s first floor contains generous windows showcasing its expansive layout, including the Jill Bonovitz Gallery, a demonstration studio, and a shop that welcomes the community at street-level entries set within the angular brickwork. An outdoor covered pavilion on the ground floor boasts an impressive adjoining workspace that can double as a 160-person event space. The Nicholas Kripal Memorial Sculpture Garden allows guests to sit outdoors and relax, surrounded by pieces from The Clay Studio’s permanent collection.
The second floor is home to classrooms and requisite kiln rooms, including top-of-the-line kiln and wheel brands. The kiln rooms offer 88% more kiln capacity than the old building; a daily firing schedule of kilns allows for a 24-hour turnaround process.
The upper floors reveal a rhythmic and varied window design, suggesting a “curio cabinet” of activity. The third floor is dedicated to artist workspaces, ceramic studios, and state-of-the-art prototyping spaces. The fourth floor contains offices, a shared kitchen, and a classroom that connects to an open air rooftop with a retractable roof. The outdoor space functions as a second event location, accommodating 160 guests.
Neighbors – The new facility deepens the relationship between The Clay Studio and the South Kensington community. These bonds began with the Claymobile, The Clay Studio’s 25-year-old community engagement program having its studio in South Kensington. This mobile “pop up” ceramic studio has expanded in scope in recent years and now includes artist-led workshops, organized shared meals, and conversational exchanges. Claymobile programs engage the community to learn more about each other’s history and culture. The community programming serves 4,000 youth and adults annually and partners with 95 schools, community, and social service organizations around the Philadelphia region.
The Clay Studio is also committed to fostering the next generation of artists. The fourth floor of the new building offers a special classroom, specifically designed with youth in mind. The tables can adjust to meet the height of any student, and pottery wheels have been placed in an ergonomic way to allow teachers and students to work in tandem.
This summer, The Clay Studio will launch camps for children ages 6 to 17. In June, a drop-in program will begin for participating adults; children accompanied by adults are welcome on Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. The facility will host a free after-school program for neighborhood elementary students in the fall, with the goal to expand the program to include middle and high school students.
“We know the transformative power of clay and look forward to sharing our love for the material and its creative possibilities with our neighbors, local partners, and the larger community in this inspiring new building,” said Josie Bockelman, Deputy Director of The Clay Studio.
The Inaugural Exhibition – The cornerstone of the new facility, the Jill Bonovitz Gallery, hosts the inaugural exhibition, Making Place Matter, supported by a grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, which complements The Clay Studio’s permanent collection, programming, and store. Making Place Matter hopes to engage visitors in a rich conversation around “place,” clay, and artists. Using clay and cultural heritage as sources of inspiration, Making Place Matter features Philadelphia-based, Peruvian-born artist Kukuli Velarde, American-born, Massachusetts-based artist Molly Hatch, and Egyptian American artist Ibrahim Said, now based in North Carolina. The Community Studio adjacent to the Jill Bonovitz Gallery offers space for guests to consider the exhibition while making their own clay artwork. The front-facing windows allow passers-by to see art-making in progress, encouraging them to come in and participate. The exhibition runs from April 23 through October 2, 2022, and is free to the public.
The Clay Studio is free and open to the public Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.