Artillery

For those of you who just can't shake that scene from Ghost — the one where Patrick Swayze's apparition cozies up to Demi Moore while she works at her potter's wheel — Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts (in Asheville's River Arts District) is your kind of place. The studio is offering clay "date nights" every Friday evening, where couples (and singles) are invited to experience the sensual aspects of clay. Says Brian McCarthy, director of Odyssey, "It just seems like a good fit to the unique lifestyle of Asheville."

Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts draws nationally recognized artists for its workshops. Here, work from Janis Mars Wunderlich.

Initially the building was home to Highwater Clays, established by Brian and Gail McCarthy in 1979. When Highwater relocated in 1994, the McCarthys, who own the building and have played a large role in cultivating the neighborhood, decided to turn the space into a mecca for ceramic artists. "The potter in me wanted to show what clay was all about to as many different people as possible," Brian says. "I thought there was an opportunity here to create a creative community. That's really what's behind it."

The center is a visual feast for ceramic lovers and offers much for the novice to learn from. Hundreds of unglazed bisque-ware forms sit on wooden shelves that hang high on the walls, while the completed works of resident and studio artists are on display throughout the center. A small gallery, a library, and a supply store complete this vast resource for anyone interested in clay.

Wooing at the wheel is just one of Odyssey's programs. In fact, this month the center starts a new session of classes and it's not too late to register. The classes offer instruction in techniques such as tile design, surface decoration and making faces in clay. Or try kids classes and a Martin Luther King Clay Day program all day on Monday, Jan. 18.

Not just for beginners, Odyssey offers a two-year artist residency program. Six ceramic artists are selected from all over the country for their talent and willingness to be engaged in a community setting. Brian chooses the resident artists. "We try to keep a balance between sculpture and utilitarian work, as well as a gender balance," he says.

In exchange for facilities and private studios, resident artists are expected to help with cleanup and monitoring the center. (Perhaps that's why the most surprising thing to discover upon entering the expansive space of Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts is how clean it is. The dust and slop that one generally associates with clay studios is hard to find in this industrious and inviting establishment located on Clingman Ave.) "What's good about this place is that you have a variety of ways to be involved," says Patty Bilbro, a resident artist who will also be teaching a class this semester called "Lips, Bellies, and Feet."

"They get a lot of interesting and well-known artists in to give critiques and instruction," says Bilbro. Inspired by visiting artists such as Kathy King and Paul Wandless, Bilbro began incorporating line drawings onto her high-fired stoneware pots during her residency. "I've been here over a year and my work has changed dramatically," she says.

You don't have to be a resident artist or a student, however, to reap the benefits of Odyssey. The center rents out private studios, shelf space, potters wheels, and space in its 8 electric kilns (and an outdoor kiln yard which houses a raku kiln, a soda/salt kiln and one gas reduction kiln) to artists in the community. 

Learn more at www.highwaterclays.com.

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