Potters as a group are particularly interested in the interaction between the things they make and the people who use them. The Artstream Ceramic Library grew out of a desire to explore this social exchange, rather than the usual monetary exchange. It grew out of wanting to extend and expand what was already happening in the Artstream Nomadic Gallery, a roving ceramics gallery established in 2001 by Alleghany Meadows that sets up its 1967 silver Airstream along city streets across the country. What was happening is that people got to talk directly to the makers of pots. This rare interaction and sharing, is of course, one of the best things about the whole experience on both sides. And people who would never go into a ceramics gallery were unexpectedly introduced and turned on to some of the best handmade pots around.
The Ceramic Library consists of forty cups from a dozen nationally-known potters, many of them current or former Bray residents. Cups can be checked out for up to a week to be used in whatever manner. In exchange, the Library asks that the user document the experience by taking a picture or by making some other piece of art in response. For example, here are pictures taken of my beaver cup. The cups are housed in cushioned wooden boxes made by Andy Brayman and the process of checking out is done with a typewriter and a card catalog, just like in the old days.
Having the Ceramic Library here at the Archie Bray for its 60th anniversary is fitting given the history of social exchange and sharing at the Bray. In some ways, it defines the Bray. From the ubiquitous potluck where nearly every ceramic artist is a devoted cook (or knows that Vann’s is the best place to get a quick contribution of fried chicken), to the sharing of glaze recipes and wood firing shifts, to the almost constant sharing of ideas, the Bray is also “a fine place” to share. The generosity of volunteers from the local Helena community to share their time, energy, and knowledge have been equally fundamental to the Bray experience and its success. Growth as an artist happens as much from these exchanges as it does from focused studio work.
We all have had experience with using something on loan, whether it’s a rental apartment, a leased car, or a cell phone. Most of us though, have never used a handmade object on loan. Because it’s temporary pleasure and relationship, do we appreciate the experience all the more? Is it like falling in love with a cup in a friend’s cupboard and then looking forward to using it on the next visit? Everything we experience in a museum is on loan, so how does it differ when one gets to take a handmade cup home? For James Klein, who has taken out a Lisa Orr cup, “it’s like visiting with an old friend.”