Building a Clay Community: Denver Potters Are Taking the Wheel

Kyle Sayre and Emily Fritze are among the potters trying to build a welcoming community.
Kyle Sayre and Emily Fritze are among the potters trying to build a welcoming community. city mud
You wouldn't think that pottery, an art form generally considered relaxing and peaceful, would be so stressful to get into. But many potters say Denver is not a beginner-friendly city, and a number of artists are working to change that.

Roxane Ambrose will open her own pottery studio, Community Clay, in Congress Park on September 1. Ambrose says she struggled to find a good membership-based studio to join after moving to Denver in March 2019.

"There weren’t really any pottery studios where they had memberships and I could go and be part of a community," she recalls. "I applied with the Colorado Potters Guild, and the cost was enormous. I want a place where I can make friends and be part of a community of like-minded artists, where we can make stuff together."

Ambrose wants her space to be "Denver's friendliest pottery studio," where beginners can come in and learn, there are no wrong questions, and everyone can support each others' artistic journeys.

She made the decision in April to open the studio after being so isolated in her craft throughout COVID. “I’m really excited for it to be a place to bring people together," she says. "I want it to be a community, and I want the building to be part of the community.”

Her studio will offer introductory throwing classes, one-on-one private lessons, open studio time and monthly and yearly memberships. Ambrose is still finding teachers for her classes and hopes that more will apply once the studio opens. The studio will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week for members (pricing is still to be determined). Non-members will also be able to book two hours of open studio time.

Ambrose isn't the only one who sees something missing in the Denver pottery scene. City mud, which will open sometime in August, has a similar origin story. Co-owner Emily Fritze was also looking for a place for a pottery membership, without much luck. She and co-owner Kyle Sayre decided to open city mud, a 24-hour studio where both beginners and experts can work on their art. In its inaugural newsletter, city mud explains, "While there are some really awesome pottery studios in Denver, most classes are so booked out that it is really challenging to get into one, and finding a membership at a studio where you can throw solo is nearly impossible. We really want to change that."

Fritze and Sayre decided to open city mud about a year ago. "The first few months of business planning was just scouting out every single pottery studio we could easily find on the internet from here to Boulder, just to understand what they offered, were the classes full — all the different logistics," Sayre says.

The two note that there is a huge demand for the craft right now: One owner recently reported that their studio's classes fill up in just over a minute after going live online.

City mud will include 24/7 studio access for members, who will have their own key to the space so they can come and go whenever they want. Memberships will cost $175 per month, and city mud will also offer a six-week beginner class for $295. "We highly encourage beginners to come to our studio," Sayre says.

Mary Mackey, the owner of Urban Mud gallery on Santa Fe, agrees that there is a lack of space for beginning potters. "There's a huge, huge need in Denver," she says. "I just don't have room for the classes people need." Mackey says people often have a hard time finding a place where they can get started, and while Urban Mud offers memberships, her studio — like the majority of studios here — is more tailored to professionals. A month-long membership ($275) offers members 24/7 access to the studio, as well as to social events and studio showings.

Cindy Vinson is a member at Castle Clay Artists and a former pottery teacher at Community College of Aurora. Castle Clay is a studio that offers membership to experienced potters, and also puts on the Denver Potters Association Show, a biannual market for a variety of artists to showcase and sell their work.

Vinson cites a lack of instructors as one barrier for beginning potters.

"[Castle Clay Artists] is not private, but there's no one here to teach somebody," Vinson says. "We give advice and guide kiln usage, but people have to come in with experience. There is a [lack] of space for beginners, for sure."

And according to Shelley Schreiber, who is opening Continuum Art Studios in Englewood with Peter Durst sometime in the next few months, it isn't just beginners who need more room. Continuum will be open to experienced potters who need a dedicated work space. Schreiber says that in her experience, open studio space is limited in Denver, so in 2020, she decided to open her own.

"What [Continuum] was trying to address was the need for work space, but also to support people technically," she says. "It's not going to be for instruction except for a few workshops."

Meanwhile, the Colorado Potters Guild requires a $900 initiation fee that can be paid over twelve months, plus monthly dues of $75, according to the Guild. The Potters Guild has only forty members, and one of them has to leave or be deceased for a spot to open. Anyone wanting to become a member must complete an in-depth written application and an interview before a jury votes on acceptance. The Guild accepts applications continuously, but applicants are added to a waiting list that is reviewed when a spot opens up. Five new members were accepted this past January.

According to its website, the Guild is also "not equipped to accept the beginning potter."
Derek Redding, the owner of Flux Studio and Gallery, is looking to activate the pottery scene in Denver for beginners and experts alike. Flux offers a variety of classes for beginning potters, including a six-week intro to the wheel course — though that class is at capacity and has a waitlist. Flux has private lessons and shadow sessions, as well, which range from $150 to $750.

In addition, Flux hosts several pottery pop-up events yearly to invigorate interest in the community. The next one will take place on the grounds of Flux Studio and Eron Johnson Antiques, at 377 South Lipan Street, on July 8 and 9, and will showcase the work of local and national potters such as Kazu Oba, a potter from Boulder who will demonstrate pot throwing. There will also be live raku firing, a process in which a piece is taken from the kiln while still red-hot, then put in combustible material to keep oxygen from it, creating a variety of colors in the glaze. The pop-up, which will include live music, too, is free and open to the public.
Redding says he is happy with what Ambrose, a former Flux Studio employee, is doing, as there aren't many studios in Denver that offer memberships like hers.

"I think it’s a great idea," he says. "I wish anyone the best of luck, for sure."

Flux Studio Pottery Pop-Up and Throwdown, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 8 and 9, 377 South Lipan Street. Community Clay opens September 1 at 2625 East 12th Avenue; Urban Mud is at 530 Santa Fe Drive; Castle Clay Artists is at 5333 38th Avenue.
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Katrina Leibee, a recent graduate of Colorado State University, is an editorial fellow at Westword, covering politics, business and culture.
Contact: Katrina Leibee