Richmond ceramicists, businesses collaborate to showcase clay artwork

Artist Moon Williams' artwork fills the windows at bbgb, a children’s bookstore in Carytown, for Clay Windows of Richmond, which showcased cermacists’ art in various business’ storefront displays. Photo by Maggie Root.

Hazel Hoffman, Contributing Writer

Dozens of small businesses around Richmond last week took down their regular window displays for artists to put up stands, signs, props and, most importantly, lots and lots of clay. 

From pottery items with colorful glazing to tall vases with detailed etchings and pastel slugs with mugs, ceramics took over windows to create a living gallery of local artists in the city they work in.

The ceramics community came together from Wednesday, March 20, to Saturday, March 23, to show off the local scene with Clay Windows of Richmond. The project paired dozens of local artists and businesses to create a series of storefront displays that centered and promoted the artists and their work, according to Kelly Adams, a community partner of the project.

Adams worked with volunteers from the National Council on Education of the Ceramic Arts to organize the project and is the owner of STUFF in Scott’s Addition, which carries handcrafted jewelry, gifts and art from local artists. For Clay Windows of Richmond, STUFF displayed the colorful work of Ashland artist Mel Titus, who uses intricate glazing techniques in producing unique pieces.

Clay Windows happened in tandem with the 58th annual NCECA conference, which took place in Richmond last week on the same days and brought ceramics artists and educators from several countries together, according to Adams.

While the idea of displaying local potters’ work in windows has been around for several years, NCECA volunteers Sylvia Mallory and Corinna Anderson took on the project with a renewed passion this year, Adams said.

With a framework of community partners and dedicated volunteers, Mallory and Anderson were able to connect over 50 local artists and 35 businesses in Richmond for the project despite initially only expecting a handful of storefronts, Adams said.

“We all think pottery is utilitarian, like a coffee mug, a plate,” Adams said. “Throughout time we forget about the other pieces like the sculpture and the different types of firing.”

The magic of Clay Windows is that it brings the artistry and diversity of the ceramics community to the forefront in spaces where people already are, making the community beautiful in a way that is accessible to anyone at any time, Adams said.

As a community partner and someone who has always enjoyed making connections and talking to people, Adams sought out artists and connected them to local businesses that matched their aesthetics, inspirations and aspirations to create displays that sparked conversation, Adams said.

“The electricity bill in our city has gone up tremendously since all of these kilns have been firing for the past five months to display their work,” Adams said with a laugh.

Alexandra Fabrizio, one of the artists displayed, said when Adams told her the window she’d be paired with was World of Mirth, one of her favorite stores, she couldn’t turn it down. She said she then set to work creating a colorful exhibit featuring not one, but two tea parties with little friends, slugs, frogs and cats sitting down for tea.

“With my work, I’m working through the complication of emotions — of being a human in this world,” Fabrizio said. “We still can be joyful, and not take ourselves so seriously as we work through all of, you know, the messiness of life and have a lot of fun.”

The Richmond ceramics community stands out in how warm and supportive people are, Fabrizio said. The space is not only full of talented artists, but also people who are as a whole welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and experience.

“I feel like this is a really approachable medium that people can kind of sit with and interact with that other art doesn’t have, because you could have a mug, you know, that’s your favorite mug —  that becomes a ritual,” Fabrizio said. 

Fabrizio hopes that her pieces and the work of artists across the city will help people see a reflection of themselves in an art form that they may not have expected and break down those expectations of what pottery and ceramics are, she said.

Rabia Kamara, the owner of Ruby Scoops, said she, like many involved, had some ceramics experience and was excited to be a part of the project when she was contacted by the organizers.

Ruchi of Birds at Noon makes beautiful, whimsical pieces that I think, like ice cream, satisfy your inner child,” Kamara said.

In Carytown, Sugar & Twine’s window was taken over by Summer Balcom, a VCUarts graduate who’s been working out of her own studio, Summer Bee Clay, for several years, she said.

Balcom looked forward to the clay community having a wider audience for their work and showing off how rich and impactful Richmond’s ceramic scene is, she said.

“It really is a very significant, diverse community and it’s kind of not really known unless you’re aware of it or in that circle,” Balcom said.

Balcom pointed out the versatility of the medium itself as well, saying that from sculptural ceramics to tableware and pottery — no two artists’ practices are the same in creating from the raw material, furthering the diversity of the Richmond ceramics scene.

“A lot of people see me and my work and are surprised that ceramics can look that way or are surprised that surface design can look a certain way,” Balcom said. “So I found that kind of delightful to discover that I was surprising some people’s expectations.”

While Balcom said she didn’t set out with the intention to subvert expectations, her detailed and textured works often use sgraffito, a carving technique that produces striking lines and a textured feel to push the limits of image and form. 

“People are seeing different pottery and especially different styles that they don’t necessarily associate with a traditional pottery mindset — a lot of people are seeing how alternative and interesting and contemporary a lot of the potters are in Richmond,” Balcom said.

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