What we shape with our hands transforms our future.
As artists, advocates, and educators, The Clay Studio is committed to ensuring the space, support, and inspiration necessary for expression and mastery in the ceramic arts. We work in partnership with artists and the community to advance the ceramic arts as a force for good to build connections where all can flourish.
Founded in 1974 by five artists in need of workspace, The Clay Studio was envisioned as a stepping-stone for students fresh out of art school, offering affordable studio space and shared equipment.
Within a short time, Clay Studio artists consciously shifted the Studio's mission from an inward focus to one that also embraced community engagement and education. In 1979, the Studio became a nonprofit 501(c)(3) educational institution.
The Clay Studio today is renowned for its unique ability to serve all levels of students while broadening ceramics as a contemporary art form. Our mission is to provide a unique environment in which to experience the ceramic arts; accordingly, we gear our programs to all levels of interest, proficiency, and financial means.
Read this detailed summary of The Clay Studio's history on its 30th anniversary, written in 2004 by Gail Brown, an Independent Curator of Contemporary Craft who curated a number of ceramic exhibitions, including Political Clay at the Clay Studio in July 2000.
1974 • OUR FOUNDING
The Clay Studio was founded by Ken Vavrek, Jill Bonovitz, Janice Merendino, Betty Parisano, and Kathie Regan. The women were students at Moore College of Art where Vavrek was their teacher. They formed the organization in order to share resources and support each other in their artistic pursuits.
1979 • OUR NONPROFIT STATUS
The Clay Studio applied for, and was granted, nonprofit status based on its promotion of the ceramic arts, service to artists, and education in clay to students in the area.
1980 • A FIRE
After moving to a new location on Arch Street, a major fire destroyed the interior of The Clay Studio’s new home. A philanthropic friend of the organization, Bertram Horowitz, became the first outside board president and helped raise the needed funds to move to 47-49 N. 2nd Street.
1981 • NEW GROWTH
At the new location the Resident Artist program became more fully established, class offerings were extended, a communal studio program and shop were added, and a professional staff was hired.
1983 • A NATIONAL FOCUS
The Clay Studio hosted three American Clay Artists exhibitions during the 1980s, promoting the excellence and diversity of approaches to ceramic art to new audiences. The Studio partnered with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to host lectures by the most prestigious American artists working in clay.
1990 • A NEW HOME
The Clay Studio moved to 137-139 N. 2nd Street, establishing more professional studios, shop, and gallery spaces to serve its ever-growing constituency. Initially the building was shared with several other arts organizations and was called The 2nd Street Art Building.
1991 • A PRESTIGIOUS AWARD
Evelyn Shapiro Foundation established the Shapiro Fellowship for one exceptional Resident Artist each year to receive a stipend and solo exhibition. The Fellowship (now the Zeldin Fellowship) was highly sought after and quickly became a prestigious award in the ceramic art community.
1992 • INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Director Jimmy Clark was awarded significant support from Pew Charitable Trusts to mount a groundbreaking exhibition, East European Ceramics, vaulting The Clay Studio to international acclaim. Clark also inaugurated the Guest Artist Program, inviting ceramic artists from behind the Iron Curtain to create artwork at The Clay Studio. The program subsequently hosted artists from over forty countries.
1994 • THE CLAYMOBILE PROGRAM
Kathryn Narrow, Managing Director and former Resident Artist, established the Claymobile program. Through the Claymobile, teaching artists are sent to schools and organizations around the Philadelphia area with all the tools and supplies necessary to teach a full ceramics class. More than 3,500 students each year receive high quality, inspiring ceramic art classes.
2002 • ARTISTIC FOCUS
The Clay Studio expanded staff to manage its remarkable growth. Amy Sarner Williams, a former Resident Artist, was named Executive Director. She focused on professionalizing and integrating programs, and led an expansion of The Clay Studio to utilize the full 21,000 square feet of the building at 137-139 N. 2nd Street. The Clay Studio appointed Jeffrey Guido as Artistic Director.
2007 • EXPANSION
The Clay Studio successfully completed the “Ring of Fire” capital campaign to become the sole occupant in its Second Street facility. More space allowed for expanded programs and greater earned income. The organization received a prestigious Wallace Foundation grant to focus on fostering audience engagement.
2010 • NATIONAL AND LOCAL GROWTH
In conjunction with the conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), Guido and The Clay Studio organized a major exhibition, Ceramic Interactions. It was a citywide exhibition, with art located at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Penn Museum, and Eastern State Penitentiary.
2012 • A STRATEGIC PLAN
A new president, Christopher Taylor, worked with staff and board to create and implement a strategic plan to prepare for a capital campaign and facility expansion.
2014 • ANNIVERSARY YEARS
The Clay Studio celebrated its 40th anniversary and the Claymobile celebrated its 20th anniversary. The 40th Anniversary Celebration, planned by new curator Garth Johnson, culminated in a 40-hour event in the gallery featuring Guest Artists and Staff throwing on the wheel throughout the night.
2016 • A NEW BUILDING PLAN
The Clay Studio launched its third major capital campaign as the need for a larger facility had been identified and plans for a new building began. The Zeldin Fellowship was launched to support the Resident Artist Program.
2017 • ARTIST & COMMUNITY FOCUS
New curator Jennifer Zwilling and Deputy Director Josie Bockelman began planning programs in South Kensington, the neighborhood chosen for the new building.
2018 • THE CLAYTOGETHER CAMPAIGN
The ClayTogether capital campaign takes off under the direction of new Executive Director, Jennifer Martin. With incredible support from our Board, Staff, Artists, and Community, we surpassed our fundraising goal.
2020 • A NEW YEAR, A NEW BEGINNING
In January of 2020, The Clay Studio broke ground for its new building. Our new clay center will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
2021 • BUILDING OUR FUTURE
ClayTogether allowed us to build our own permanent home, opening in the spring of 2022 1425 N. American Street. In our new home, we will better serve our ever-growing audience of ceramic artists, students, and enthusiasts.
The Clay Studio Archives
Our physical archives contain various forms of documention on physocal pieces, exhibitions, and artists files; spanning from our founding days to the present! If you would like to do research and engage with documents from our archives please contact our Director of Artistic Programs Jennifer Zwilling at email@example.com.
We acknowledge that The Clay Studio is located on the homeland of the Lenape people and pay respect and honor their role as caretakers of this land in the past, present and future.