Roswell Clay Collective took root in 1991as part of the Roswell Visual Arts program, a national award winning program for the arts and humanities. Roswell Visual Arts, a section of the City of Roswell, Georgia, Recreation and Parks Department, works to advance artistic opportunities and meet the creative needs of the community.
Roswell Visual Arts Coordinator, Jan Gibbons worked with the architectural team Carruth and Carruth planning the first arts center in metropolitan Atlanta specifically designed to house visual arts. The center boasts multipurpose classrooms and a state of the art ceramic studio designed in consultation with ceramic artist and instructor, Deborah Adornato. This one of a kind ceramic studio has hosted a variety of sculpture, handbuilding and wheel classes as well as professional and educational workshops.
The program was so successful that within five years, overcrowding, scheduling problems and limitations on educational opportunities were evident. During this time a group of students and instructors who shared their interest in the ceramic arts decided to advance the opportunities of the ceramics program by forming a volunteer organization, called Roswell Clay Collective under the guidance of sculptor and instructor, Debra Fritts. The opportunities included educational meetings and the creation of a yearly show and sales venue for the students and instructors to make their artwork available to the public for sale. This show and sale would give the members a chance to formally show their work and earn money for future endeavors and also give the community a retail outlet for one of a kind, handmade clay works. The first “Works in Clay” held in December 1998 started of a tradition in Roswell. The success of this show led to two shows yearly during the Holiday and Spring seasons with over 2000 people in attendance for each show.
The enthusiasm for expansion of space and increasing activities led the Clay Collective to begin speaking out about their needs. The primary audiences targeted were Roswell Recreation Department, Roswell Recreation Commission and the Roswell City Council. When the City Council held public hearings on the future plans for the Roswell Recreation and Parks Department the Clay Collective was there with numbers and voices. Their shared interests in the arts, the bonding of relationships, the sense of community and the willingness to work toward a common goal impressed the leaders of Roswell. As a result Roswell Recreation and Parks Department, under leadership of Director Joe Glover was challenged by the City leaders to renovate a 7,000 square foot former residence, with a budget of $80,000, in the newly acquired Leita Thompson Memorial Park, 146 acres of parkland featuring meadows and natural woodland.
The challenge was on. During the next year the skills, talents and efforts of staff, professionals and volunteers resulted in a dramatic renovation named “Art Center West”. Art Center West, dedicated solely to ceramic arts, would boast a model ceramic facility with separate sculpture and wheel throwing studios, two wet glaze rooms, five electric kilns, two raku kilns, a gas reduction kiln, a soda kiln and a formal exhibition gallery. Studio space was created for six apprentices and two residents.
In October of 2003, the doors of Art Center West opened in an open house and a dedication ceremony by City officials, arts supporters, employees, visitors and volunteers. The Mayor Jere Wood, Council members, Commission members, RRPD staff, praised the Clay Collective volunteers for their hard work and dedication.
In the following months the Clay Collective volunteers would be presented with even more challenges. Since the original budget did not include full time or part time staff, volunteers were needed for supervising the building, preparing and maintaining classrooms, loading and firing artwork, mixing glazes, setting up professional workshops, staffing, hosting exhibits and receptions for Art Center West Gallery and coordinating two annual “Works in Clay” shows and sales.
Art Center West is now skillfully managed by ceramic artist and instructor, A.J. Argentina. Volunteers and staff are still working to finish projects, put on final touches and find ways to enhance the space that they consider a gift. Registration for classes and workshops has increased and visits to the facility bring new participants from all over the nation. Art Center West Gallery has hosted both local and nationally known ceramic artists. The Clay Collective Workshop series highlights renowned educators and artists in the field. Apprenticeships and residency positions, offered by application, attract both students and professionals to work and learn in this dynamic atmosphere.
The public is invited to see this outstanding facility and the beautiful surrounding parkland. The uniqueness of the Arts Center West lies in its people. Their intuition, vision and hard work set a standard for all communities. Roswell Visual Arts, including Roswell Visual Center and Arts Center West supports and encourages life long appreciation for the visual arts. Arts and leisure are essential to the lives of our students, staff, and volunteers and their efforts prove it. One member of the Clay Collective said recently that through the years they had attended to the recreational needs of their children and their parents, now it was their turn.