Published: Sep 03, 2008 06:41 AM
Modified: Sep 03, 2008 06:41 AM
Chapel Hill's clay and pottery studio has a new home
New digsThe Town of Chapel Hill recently announced that registration was open for the fall session of Parks and Recreation pottery classes.That simple notice was sweet music to Carmen Elliott's ear. Until recently she thought it was an announcement she might never hear again.In 1981, Elliott began teaching clay and pottery classes at the town's Lincoln Pottery Studio. She and the teachers who have co-taught with her have inspired and nurtured creativity in thousands of local children and adults.The town of Chapel Hill didn't own the Lincoln Pottery Studio; it had signed a 30-year lease in 1977 for the space. That lease was to expire in December 2007, and as the deadline approached Elliott realized the community faced losing this rich arts facility."Back in February of 2005, I realized somebody needed to be thinking about this," Elliott said. "Everyone had to pull together, including the students and the Parks and Rec staff, to figure out where this does this program go next?" A core group of students banded together to urge the town to find a suitable replacement space. Karen Fisher was one of them. She took clay classes with Elliott more than a decade ago and after a hiatus returned to it a few years ago. "We were worried that the program would really fade away," Fisher said. "I think it is important to have an arts program that is accessible to all the citizens in the community."The coalition met with Butch Kisiah, director of the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department to try and come up with a new home for the clay program. "He was very responsive, but his hands were tied about lack of space and money," Fisher said.But Kisiah was determined to wriggle loose of his bonds. "Over the last year, before we had to move out, we had about 200 individuals participating in the pottery classes," he said. "It is a great recreational program. I felt like we had to do whatever we could to save the program. It was very difficult to find a location. There is not a lot of commercial rental space that would be suitable for a clay program."When the clay coalition sat down to talk with Kisiah, he saw in them a very compelling reason to save the program. "They really showed me that we had all ages and great diversity involved in the program, and that is the kind of program you want to have for a town," Kisiah said. "I wasn't going to let the program end. I ask my staff all the time, why we are in this business? We are in the business for people."One of those people is Dave Pillery. He gave his voice to the coalition's cause. "I don't consider myself an artist," Pillery said. "I'm a computer guy. To use my hands that way and get outside my head was a very good thing for me. It helped me a lot, so there had to be something good to it. I could imagine that it is a really good outlet for anybody."In the end, Kisiah had to look no further than the Parks and Recreation office on Plant Road. A garage there was being used for storage. Kisiah worked some diplomacy, staff cleared the building out and a public works crew transformed the former garage into an excellent clay facility. This new space is smaller than the original one, but Elliott is elated that the clay program has a home. Everyone should have a teacher like Eliott, no matter the medium. She is naturally creative. "She helps students relax and have fun," Fisher said. "She has an open mind. She has respect for the clay and teaches us that it will do what it will, that you are not the master of it, you work with it."Elliott is profoundly grateful that the program will continue. She believes that once people come to the new location, they will savor the space. It has great parking, picnic tables, a rose garden, a three-mile hiking loop along Bolin Creek and other classes at the dommunity center. One family member can climb the indoor climbing wall at the center while another learns to throw pots on the wheel."What I am really hoping for is that this space can be a quiet, beautiful place to create for the community, a welcoming place for kids and adults," Elliott said.Because we have her at the helm, it shall be so.For information, or to sign up for classes, see http://www.townhall.townofchapelhill.org/parks_& rec.
Deborah R. Meyer can be contacted at 942-3252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2008 The Chapel Hill News