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The Clay Studio's simple fund-raiser pays off



Jayson Lawfer set up his potter’s wheel at The Clay Studio adjacent to the front window for the modest view. But his positioning was less for outdoor inspiration and more for the vantage on the studio’s mailbox. During the months of February and March, Lawfer sits like a hopeless romantic waiting for a love letter, eagerly spying on the mailman’s delivery of artist donations for POTSKETCH 2005.

The fund-raiser by Missoula’s community clay studio is a model of simplicity. In only its second year, Lawfer got the idea to provide a select list of local and international artists with some basic materials—a 4-by-5-inch piece of fine Fabriano Italia paper and a Kimberly 2B pencil—along with a self-addressed, postage-paid return envelope. The artists were invited to create a piece of work—“Take 10 seconds, 10 minutes, 10 hours”—with what was provided (or their own supplies) and donate it for auction. The results were boundless, ranging from a basic sketch of a clay pot to miniature sculptures made of the materials.

“Every single day I was so excited to see what arrived,” says Lawfer, the executive director of The Clay Studio since August 2002. “You’re never sure what we’ll get. I send a lot of the mailers out to people I have great respect for, but maybe haven’t met—like Garth Clark, the preeminent authority on ceramics [who owns two galleries in New York City]—and when we get things back, amazing pieces of art, it’s really exciting.”

Each donation arrives in the small parcel Lawfer provides. Since the donations come from artists, the packaging is often decorated. Since the pool of participants has grown to international proportions, including Japan, Korea, Denmark and Australia, the postage is uncommon. Lawfer keeps all of the envelopes in his office on their own shelf. He flips through them like a baseball fan with a stack of rare trading cards.

“I think these [envelopes] are art themselves; just look at this,” he says, holding up one that has been illustrated. “I get [excited] like this because it would be easy for these people to dismiss a small studio in Missoula. It’s unbelievable to me how much response we’ve received.”

The fund-raiser has worked on many levels. Most important, it raised more than $11,000 last year. The public is invited to bid on the donated artwork, with all proceeds going to the studio. The money is being used to help secure a permanent residence (the current space is rented) and provide artist-in-residence programs, not to mention basic operating expenses. POTSKETCH has also received national and international recognition, improving the studio’s reputation and prominence. But most thrilling to Lawfer, the fund-raiser has produced some provocative original artwork from some of the most prominent artists in the ceramics community and the art world in general.

“I’m a collector of art at a pretty young age, and it’s important to me to see other people in this community have the chance to have work by these artists,” says Lawfer, 31, who worked closely with the studio’s board of directors to compile the list of invited artists. “The chance to have one of [Satoru Hoshino’s] pots, you have to be in a situation where you can afford to pay $3,000 to $4,000 for a small piece. But here you have the opportunity to buy an archival drawing from one of the best living ceramic artists in the world.”

Hoshino, a Japanese native, is one of the more famous artists to appear in POTSKETCH. He’s had more than 40 solo exhibitions and been included in more than 100 group exhibitions, and his donation this year is a simple watercolor of a black tea pot—representative of the artist’s propensity to work exclusively in black.

Another of the more famous artists in POTSKETCH is Akio Takamori, who has been exhibited from Taipei to Tempe, Ariz. Last year, Takamori’s donation brought in the largest single bid at more than $600. His donation for this year’s fund-raiser is an illustration of two boxers using the B2 pencil, which draws rough lines similar to chalk on a blackboard. Takamori has layered a thin, transparent sheet with another figure overlying one of the boxers, this one appearing to be nude. The multilayered piece implies a mysterious and devious quality to one of the characters.

Local artists have also had the opportunity to participate in the event. Among this year’s submissions are sketches from celebrated local painter Monte Dolack; Stephen Glueckert, the exhibitions curator of Missoula’s Modern Art Museum; and Josh Deweese, the resident director of Helena’s Archie Bray Foundation, a ceramics studio and gallery space in operation for almost 50 years.

Lawfer, however, is most touched by the donation of a small sketch made by another Missoula artist, Elizabeth Dilbeck. She has been creating prints and ceramic sculptures for more than 20 years as a therapeutic way to deal with losing her sight 56 years ago. Her drawing for this year’s fund-raiser is of a small pot adorned with an orchid. The paper is signed at the bottom in brail.

“Running a nonprofit with clay is a very hard thing to do,” admits Lawfer. “The funding is low, and to get these artists that are so busy and accomplished to support us—it makes us work harder. It’s when we receive donations like this that really reaffirms what I believe The Clay Studio will be in the future.”

The Clay Studio’s Potsketch 2005 exhibit is currently on display at 910 Dickens Ave. For viewing times call 543-0509. This year’s silent auction gala event will be held Saturday, April 23, at 6:30 PM in the governor’s room of the Florence Hotel. Tickets to the gala cost $40 for individuals or $75 per couple and are available at The Clay Studio.

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