In 2008, Shu-Mei Chan earned her Masters in Fine Arts at IU and, like most graduates, had to decide the next step in her career. When contemplating this next step, she noticed an inconsistency in the Bloomington art community. According to Chan, though IU has one of the top ceramics programs in the country, Bloomington has few facilities to support these artists after graduation.
“We wanted to stay in Bloomington and saw that missing in the community,” Chan says.
Alongside her husband and fellow accomplished ceramic artist Daniel Evans, Chan made plans to change this inconsistency. The two founded the Bloomington Clay Studio (BCS) with the intent of building a community-based facility that allows artists to continue their education through clay and other mediums.
Starting with the shell of a building on three acres of land on Gross Road east of Bloomington, Evans built most of the studio that now features space for exhibitions, classes and artists to rent for studios.
Besides the building itself, Evans also built an Anagama kiln, a pottery-firing kiln with a design that dates back to the 17th century. The kiln, which Evans says took two months to build, has a tunnel-like shape that requires around-the-clock burning to achieve the correct temperature needed to fire. When used, the kiln fires for three to four days, firing 300 to 400 pots and burning over a ton of wood per day. Though laborious, the kiln’s uncommon firing process produces a unique ash glaze.
According to Evans, the most important element that the two have built has been the community at BCS. “You can have the best facility in the world, but with no community backing it, it’s doomed,” he says.
A year since its inception, the Bloomington Clay Studio is well on the way to creating its goal of creating a community. The studio currently offers multiple classes to students of all skills alongside workshops, which feature professional artist demonstrations and explanations of their creative processes. Local artists have also utilized BCS services, using rented space as their personal studios.
All BCS students also have the opportunity to display their work in a yearly student/member exhibition at the BCS’s own Feed Gallery. This year’s exhibition titled “Home-Cooked” began on July 1 and will be held until Aug. 31 with a closing reception on Friday, Aug. 28 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Chan and Evans are also interested in providing internships to those curious about ceramics. Currently, the BCS has one high-school intern who trades work for studio time, a practice familiar to Chan and Evans. According to Chan, when the two encountered tasks they were unable to do during the construction of the BCS, they would trade goods to others for their services whenever possible.
“We love to barter,” Chan says.
There is more construction in store for the BCS with a planned expansion of 600 square feet, making more rental space for artists and a separate area for the indoor kilns. Evans is also in the process of building a second outdoor kiln, this one a smaller wood-fired kiln known as the “Rat Rod.”
Continuing in the community-building process, Chan and Evans have taken strides in making another addition to the BCS. The Quarry Projects, Ltd. is a nonprofit started in April 2009 by Chan and Evans with the intention of bringing artists of all mediums from around the world to the BCS through a residency program. Evans says the project will provide artists of any background the opportunity to work with clay in a proper studio and distinct setting, and allow them to provide a fresh perspective on ceramics while both learning and teaching new methods with other members of the BCS.
“It’s kind of like continuing education for artists,” Chan says.
Evans says much of the work done at the BCS revolves around answering one question: “What does clay mean to me?”
Nick Bowersox can be reached at email@example.com.