The Best Places to Take Ceramics Classes across the U.S.
Jun 22, 2018 2:11pm
Over the past decade, more and more professional artists and amateurs alike have taken up ceramics. Many find that it’s an absorbing outlet for creative expression, as well as a gratifying or therapeutic experience. Ceramics have come to be seen as a wellness activity, compared by some to doing yoga or meditation; researchers have found that working with ceramics has health benefits, like alleviating symptoms of depression. In our digital, screen-obsessed world, the act of producing unique handmade objects—and the tactile experience of throwing pots on the wheel or creating sculptures from slabs of clay—is extremely satisfying.
As a result, communal clay studios across the country are booming with interest. Here, we share a list of some of the most beloved ceramic studios across the United States, where both aspiring and established practitioners can take classes. Some are hosted at revered art schools with idyllic campuses, while others are local clay establishments that serve their distinct neighborhoods. Price points run the gamut, from $225 for a series of eight classes to over $1,000 for an intensive, 12-day workshop. Whatever their size or ambition, these clay hubs offer a wide range of courses for ceramics aficionados of all skill levels.
Belger Arts Center
Kansas City, Missouri
Popular classes: Beginner Wheel, Date Night
Class at the Belger Arts Center, Kansas City, MO. Courtesy of Belger Arts Center.
Belger Arts Center has two locations in the heart of Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District, with ample space for classes for kids and adults—including a popular date night class in the evenings. More seasoned artists can join as members, paying a monthly fee for space to work and store their pieces, and the center also hosts an exhibition space, a lithography workshop, and a metal yard. “Oftentimes those who learn about ceramics stick around because of the incredible community they find themselves in,” said Belger’s Cydney Ross.
Popular classes: Basic Wheel, Woodfire, and Figure-Modeling
Baltimore Clayworks, Baltimore, MD. Courtesy of Baltimore Clayworks.
For those that are hesitant about jumping into ceramics, Baltimore Clayworks offers one-day “Try-It” courses for wheel throwing and handbuilding. These allow students to feel out the materials and processes before enrolling in introductory courses, which can run from 4 to 12 weeks. “Students not only take classes, but engage in spirited conversations, work collaboratively, participate in community events, show their work in our annual student exhibition, and have fun,” said the studio’s Sara E. Morales-Morgan. Among Baltimore Clayworks’s highlights is its artist residency program, which sees artists make and exhibit their work on site and teach at the studio in satellite locations across the city. It also has a rare Noborigama two-chambered wood kiln, which attracts the region’s local artists and students; the studio offers courses that focus on the unique facets of wood firing, and hosts communal wood firings that are open to the public.
Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts
Popular classes: Various workshops in throwing and figurative ceramics
At the campus of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, there are two specialized ceramic studios—one for wheel-throwing and one for handbuilding and sculpture—and special kilns for soda firing, wood firing, and salt firing. During the year, there are multi-week classes for adults and children, and, in the summer, the school offers a wide range of clay workshops with specialized topics taught by artists, like “Finding Balance between Innovation and Utility” and “Wheel Bootcamp.” The latter filled up fast, program director Nick DeFord noted, “because the class is designed to get people throwing on the wheel who have never had that opportunity.”
Clay Art Center
Port Chester, New York
Popular classes: Wheel 101, Cladies Night
Artist Nathalie Khayat at Clay Art Center, Port Chester, NY. Courtesy of Clay Art Center.
The 60-year-old Clay Art Center offers classes that are small in size and designed to foster the growth of individual students of all skill levels and ages—from 5 to 99. In addition to “Wheel 101” and “Handbuilding 101,” there’s “Beginners and Beyond” for those who have previous ceramics experience, but want to brush up on their skills. The studio also hosts more advanced ceramists who can join as members, as well as evening events like “Cladies Night” on Friday evenings, which attracts a diverse group, from college students to retirees. For many, it’s as much about community as it is about honing ceramics skills. “Working with clay brings mindfulness into your life,” said executive director Leigh Taylor Mickelson, “and our studios are bustling with working professionals, parents, and children who are looking to de-stress, unplug, and socialize with others.”
District Clay Center
Popular Classes: Beginning and intermediate wheel classes
District Clay Center, Washington, D.C. Courtesy of District Clay Center.
As the largest ceramics facility in Washington, D.C., District Clay Center offers 10-week classes in handbuilding and wheel-throwing. The latter tends to be more popular. “People find something magical about working on a wheel and seeing a lump of clay rise up into a beautiful cup or bowl or vase just using their hands,” said executive director Cass Johnson. The studio also offers one-night classes, where people can try out throwing for a night and see how they fare, or workshops with esteemed artists like
. Once you sign up for a series of classes, you’re entitled to perks like the ability to drop in on other classes, along with free open studios on Sunday afternoons. “Practice, in pottery as in other things, makes perfect—and so we want to give students as much practice time as possible,” Johnson added.
The Clay Studio
Popular classes: Wheel Throwing, Date Night, Let’s Make
The Clay Studio, Philadelphia, PA. Courtesy of The Clay Studio.
“Clay is meditative, immediate, and more of an accessible medium for a lot of people who have convinced themselves that they can’t draw or paint,” said The Clay Studio’s director of education and community engagement, Josie Bockelman. “The wheel is incredibly challenging and at the same time soothing and relaxing. As a student it’s incredibly gratifying when your skills start to improve,” she added, nodding to the studio’s popular throwing classes, which include a two-hour introductory workshop, a five-week beginners course, and 10-week courses for all levels (plus handbuilding courses). In addition to the teaching artists who lead courses, students have access to 12 artists-in-residence who hail from across the country.
Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts
Popular classes: Special topics classes like surface techniques
Class at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, Helena, MT. Courtesy of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts .
Artists from around the world apply for the prestigious residency program at the Bray (as it’s lovingly called), where they also teach classes for the broader community. Courses for beginners include introductory throwing and handbuilding courses, as well as a range of rotating specialty classes, like sculpture, mold-making, and kiln building. Students also have access to state-of-the-art ceramics education and research, and can choose from 19 different types of clay, which are produced on-site—far more options than the typical stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain offerings at most institutions. “Students express a love for the community that often comes with working in a ceramics studio,” said Archie Bray’s Amanda Wilkey. “For many, it’s not just about the ceramics, but about the people.”
Santa Fe Clay
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Popular classes: Summer workshops
Santa Fe Clay, Santa Fe, NM. Courtesy of Santa Fe Clay.
Santa Fe Clay is revered for its annual lineup of summer workshops—one-week “ceramic bootcamps” that are taught by contemporary ceramic artists like Gene Dodak,
. During the rest of the year, courses appeal to a wide range of ceramists—“from beginners who want a solid grounding in the fundamentals, to more experienced artists intent on mastering specific techniques,” explained chief creative officer Mark Grischke. In addition to the wheel, beginners can take classes on building with coils or slabs, as well as classes on painting, glazing, or using decals to decorate work. Given the size of its dynamic studio, Santa Fe Clay is able to host everyone from serious ceramists to families, school groups, and wedding parties.
Greenwich House Pottery
New York, New York
Popular classes: Wheel, Handbuilding, Paperclay
Kiln at Greenwich House Pottery, New York, NY. Courtesy of Greenwich House Pottery.
In beginner classes focused on handbuilding, slip casting, or the wheel, students at Greenwich House Pottery “learn the process, a little about history, a lot about the particulars of the material, and [also] about what it means to work within a community studio,” said director Adam Welch. There’s a range of intermediate, advanced, and specialty classes, like popular paperclay classes—a handbuilding course that focuses on using clay infused with paper pulp. The studio’s greatest asset is its community, Welch said. “Our students and staff give each other tips, informal critiques, help with technical questions, equipment, or with carrying each other’s work,” he explained, adding that the studio also bands together for activist and charitable causes. (Full disclosure, the writer of this piece has taken wheel and handbuilding classes at Greenwich House Pottery.)
Popular classes: Beginner Wheel, Soda Firing, Advanced Wheel Techniques
Student work at Pottery Northwest, Seattle, WA. Courtesy of Pottery Northwest.
Beginner offerings at Pottery Northwest include “Intro to Handbuilding,” “Welcome to the Wheel World,” and “Clay 101”—the last of which is an introduction to both wheel and handbuilding techniques. The studio’s residency program brings emerging and established ceramic artists—like
, and Lynne Hobaica—to the studio for two-year terms to teach classes and make work. As a result, the studio is an ever-changing creative environment, and classes reflect the aesthetics and inspirations of those visiting artists. “It gives our students the opportunity to learn from many different types of artists, who each bring something new to our curriculum,” said communications manager Madeline Williams.
Community Creative Center
Popular classes: Wheel
Community Creative Center’s Wheel Mobile: Traveling Art Studio, Fayetteville, AR. Courtesy of Community Creative Center.
In addition to multi-week wheel classes for adults and children hosted year-round, Community Creative Center offers workshops for families, a “Girls Night Out,” and date nights. It recently opened an entirely new studio to respond to the interest in wheel classes, along with what its directors call “the world’s first traveling pottery studio”—a custom-designed, 33-foot-long Winnebago known as the Wheel Mobile, which is equipped with nine potter’s wheels, power, and water, in order to bring art classes to low-income, high-need students and community members. Executive director Barbara Putman noted that a 2017 study by Culture Track found that people seeking arts and cultural experiences want them to be fun. “With the stress and divisiveness in our country these days,” she said, “coming into the studio and digging into a ball of clay can be a fantastic antidote.”
Anderson Ranch Arts Center
Snowmass Village, Colorado
Popular classes: Summer workshops
Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village, CO. Courtesy of Anderson Ranch Arts Center.
On a picturesque campus in the Rocky Mountains, Anderson Ranch Arts Center offers classes for all levels and a slate of specialty summer workshops. There, students can take advantage of its fully outfitted studio, with a glaze lab and an expansive kiln yard. “Over the years we have built up an incredible supply of tools and equipment for the students to use that we continue to add to and update year-round,” said ceramics studio coordinator Giselle Hicks and artists director of ceramics Doug Casebeer. “A student rarely wants for anything.” Classes are led by a top-notch faculty of craftspeople, professors, and business owners, and in each class, two assistants are assigned to support students. Hicks and Casebeer wager that a two-week workshop at the Ranch approaches what someone might experience during a full semester at a university. “It’s a really intense, focused time to take risks, learn new skills and be challenged to think about your values as a maker and develop your voice as an artist,” they said.
Lillstreet Art Center
Popular classes: First-Time Potter, Beginning or Advanced Beginning Wheel Throwing, Beginning or Advanced Beginning Handbuilding
Ceramics Open Studio at Lillstreet Art Center, Chicago, IL. Courtesy of Lillstreet Art Center.
Among various classes for ceramics newcomers, Lillstreet Art Center’s “First-Time Potter” class is a strong option—a five-week course that introduces wheel throwing and handbuilding, while helping students get familiar with tools and the medium. The studio consistently offers specialized courses open to all levels; whenever you enroll in a class, you’re given access to free open studio hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. “It’s time to practice and hone their craft, but also an opportunity to establish and build a community,” said ceramics director David Trost. “Working with clay is not only an outlet for stress and creativity,” added Lillstreet founder and CEO Bruce Robbins, “it increases focus, improves problem solving skills, and offers a special sense of community in real life.”
Penland School of Crafts
Penland, North Carolina
Popular classes: Functional pottery workshops open to all skill levels, based on wheel throwing, handbuilding, or a combination of the two
Penland School of Crafts, Penland, NC. Courtesy of Penland School of Crafts.
On its North Carolina campus each summer, Penland School of Crafts offers a wide selection of clay workshops—from functional pottery to figurative sculpture to brushmaking—that are friendly to beginners and advanced students alike (this summer, 12 of the 14 workshops are open to all levels). The studio includes an impressive array of kilns and firing options (electric, salt/soda, raku, wood), and students are actively involved in the firing process (whereas some studios leave the task to studio assistants and technicians). “Clay is a wonderfully accessible material,” said Penland’s Robin Dreyer. “While mastering anything is difficult, it’s easy to get started with clay.”
Morean Center for Clay
St. Petersburg, Florida
Popular classes: Throwing Taller on the Wheel, Beginning Clay Sculpture
Morean Arts Center, St. Petersburg, FL. Courtesy of Morean Arts Center
With a low student-to-teacher ratio, Morean Center for Clay offers classes designed for all levels, so a beginner can essentially take any course. “Our teachers take great care in ensuring each student is grasping the techniques needed to complete the course,” said Morean’s Sherrona Steward. “With high stress levels in our society today, we find that creating with clay can have a therapeutic effect on our students.” She added that the weekly, two-hour “Friday Night Clay” class is a great option for people with limited schedules; it focuses on both wheel throwing and handbuilding.
Red Lodge Clay Center
Red Lodge, Montana
Popular classes: 10-week Adult Classes, Kid’s & Family Holiday Classes, Wheel & Wine, Workshop Demonstrations
Former Artist-in-Residence, Lars Voltz, tending the Wood-Fire Kiln during a fall Wood-Fire Class at Red Lodge Clay Center, Red Lodge, MT, 2017. Courtesy of Red Lodge Clay Center.
“Many of our students find comfort working with their hands and exercising their creative muscles that may otherwise go neglected in their day-to-day activities,” said Red Lodge Clay Center’s Sean O’Connell. Serving a small community, Red Lodge Clay Center generally accepts all levels of ceramists in every class. In addition to its 10-week classes for adults, the center also runs two classes in the fall and two in the spring, which cater to beginners on specialized topics like figurative sculpture or wheel-thrown tableware. In addition, Red Lodge Clay Center hosts popular holiday classes for families and one-off evening classes with wine. Plus, a few times each year, students can take classes in wood firing and soda firing. The studio also has a gallery that hosts contemporary ceramics shows and a sought-after artist residency program; as is the case with several other studios on this list, artist-residents double as instructors.
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts
Deer Isle, Maine
Popular classes: Summer workshops
Class with artist Alleghany Meadows at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, ME, 2015. Courtesy of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts’s campus, situated on the Atlantic coast and designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, is an icon of modernist architecture and an ideal setting for artmaking. The school specializes in several creative disciplines—including ceramics, blacksmithing, fiber, wood, metals, and graphics—and prides itself on the community it fosters and the exchanges between artists that happen organically. Ceramics workshops remain among the most in-demand courses at the school, and in most cases, they’re open to students of all levels. “We believe this diversity of age and experience brings tremendous value to the workshop setting,” said Haystack director Paul Sacaridiz. The faculty of visiting artists—like Lydia Johnson,
, and Hanako Nakazato—changes each term; they have practices that may represent traditional or experimental approaches to clay. “The people we bring to teach workshops come from across the country and internationally, and we think of the selection of workshops as representing a snapshot of what is happening right now in contemporary ceramics,” Sacaridiz added.
Popular classes: Wheel throwing and tile making
Pewabic, Detroit, MI. Courtesy of Pewabic.
Pewabic’s classes are open to all levels, though there are beginner wheel classes for adults and teens. Many classes are taught by professors from local colleges like Wayne State University, “so students get a similar experience without the price point or assignments,” said education director Annie Dennis (an eight-week class costs $225). Students are often inspired by the processes of Pewabic’s adjacent Fabrication Studio, where ceramic tiles are designed and made by staff artisans. “Lately people are returning to a deeper appreciation for handcrafted objects, and ceramics is tactile, physical, and functional,” Dennis explained. “Pewabic was built upon a similar appreciation of and dedication to the