Get fired up
Chico Ceramics Center is pottery central
I’ve been into clay since high school when I had visions of a grown-up life where I lived upstairs in a big old house with other artists, while downstairs we sold art supplies and exhibited our work. I mention my teenage daydreaming, because it was a little startling to walk through the newly expanded Chico Ceramics Center on E. 11th Street and realize that owner Angie Harris shared a very similar dream, one that she’s brought to life.
She has everything going on—a spacious, fully equipped studio with shelves crammed with clay work in various stages; a store selling clay, glazes and tools; and a new space to exhibit artists’ work.
Harris first got her hands dirty in 2011. She ended up taking seven ceramics classes at Butte College, maxing out the number of repeats allowed. As Chico’s All Fired Up studio scaled back activities a couple of years ago (eventually closing in 2016), Harris saw a need to bolster the local ceramics scene, and worked with fellow artists Scott Bryson and Ryan McDougal to open Chico Ceramics Center.
“We opened the studio in January 2015,” Harris explained. “But I wanted to include a gallery and store selling clay and ceramics tools. So we expanded in July and [occupy] five of the six suites in this little plaza.”
Now with Harris alone at the helm, the center boasts 29 member artists who pay a $100 monthly fee for 24/7 access to 11 pottery wheels, clay extruders and slab rollers, as well as seven electric, four gas and two raku kilns for firing work. With so many kilns available, the center also offers firing services to nonmembers.
On the first Friday of every month, the center offers a raku potluck. During the December edition, Harris bustled around, multitasking as a raku kiln heated up outside. She proudly pointed out the new gallery space where local artist Dianne West’s clay work was exhibited, and the store, which offers 50 types of clay, already mixed glazes and raw materials to create more.
Outside, it was a chilly night, but excited artists huddled around the freestanding raku kiln, where their already once-fired clay works—now enveloped with a specially formulated glaze—were exposed to temperatures reaching 1,800 degrees. The red-hot pieces were then pulled out of the kiln with tongs and thrust into metal garbage cans filled with crumpled newspaper. When the paper caught fire, the garbage can lids came down to create a smoky, carbon-rich atmosphere responsible for the spectacular glazes particular to raku. The artists enjoyed the instant gratification of the process, which is faster than regular firing, in which the clay cools slowly before the kiln is opened.
In addition to its work with members, the center also offers classes for all ages on various techniques—from wheel-throwing to glazing. Harris also hosts various groups at the center. “We usually have one field trip a month—Brownies, Boy Scouts and other groups come to experience clay, some as young as 6,” she said. “We also have volunteers involved in work training from Chico High School and Butte College.”
Just about anything that could be dreamed up with clay is available at the center; there’s something for everyone, no matter the age or skill level.“Our youngest member is 14 and the oldest is 83,” Harris noted.