On a typical weekday afternoon, a handful of artists have congregated in a Tenth Street studio in Ketchum's light-industrial complex, quietly working through the hours. They are sculptors and painters. Some have graduate degrees in art, other are rank novices. They have come to Boulder Mountain Clayworks for the wealth of materials, the space to work, the professional studio manager and, primarily, for the creative energy found in numbers.
In July 1997, Ketchum artist Susan Ward purchased the commercial space that today holds two levels of communal studios, a gallery, and two rental studios available to local professional artists. (These days, local painter David deVillier, who shows at the Gail Severn Gallery, is renting one of the studios as well as teaching a painting class.) Nearly 10 years since moving into this space, Boulder Mountain Clayworks has quietly evolved into a kind of artistic co-op. There are three seasons of classes: winter/spring, summer and fall, each offering a variety of opportunities in everything from Raku to painting. As adults and children come and go, the studio feels like a slow-motion beehive.
Some come to work on assignments for class. Others take advantage of the practical punch-card policy to put in some meditative work time. "I wanted a space for like minded artists to come and work," Ward said.
Mary Ann Chubb is a veteran in the brightly-lit clay studio. She has been taking classes from Ward for nearly a decade.
"I took one ceramics class in college and I was determined to refresh my skills," said Chubb, who now sells her work through both the Boulder Mountain Gallery and Dill & Spowze gallery in Ketchum.
For others, Boulder Mountain Clay provides a respite from the daily grind.
"Clay for me is like therapy, I just love it," said Diane Shumway, a painter from Portland, Maine. Shumway, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, lived in Ketchum in the 1970s and '80s and when she visits today, she always finds time to put in some hours at the studio. "I felt so fortunate to find this wonderful place."
For younger artists, Boulder Mountain is the oil that keeps creative engines running. Chatham Baker is a perfect example. A graphic artist with WIZE Design, a locally based clothing and design workshop, Baker finds that the computer age, while challenging and ripe for visually creative endeavors, limits some of the basic joys of being an artist. Through a friend, Baker learned that Boulder Mountain offers weekly, casual figure drawing classes. It was the perfect antidote to hours spent staring at a computer screen.
"It's a nice divergence from graphic art," he said.
For Baker, digital graphics keep him too often chained to a computer, pining for the art studios of Florence, Italy; Berkley, Calif.; and Waterville, Maine, where he pursued a degree in fine art. Baker echoed Shumway's notion that Boulder Mountain is something of a blessing for local artists.
"I think it's an awesome tool, or opportunity, in such a small town," he said. "This is something that wouldn't be hard to find when I used to live in New York, but here, not only is it less money, but it's in addition to everything else in this community. I can go snowboarding and then go straight to figure drawing, which you definitely can't do in New York."
Baker is emblematic of active valley residents who find time to pursue their art between one, two, or three other jobs.
"I'm not waiting all day eating bon-bons and watching soaps before I come in," said Baker, who is also a coach for the Sun Valley Snowboard Team.
Meanwhile, studio manager Julie Singer has her hands full keeping the studios humming, clean and well-stocked with materials, including 30 different ceramic glazes available at any one time. Singer, who has been managing the studio for just over two years, is humble, but acknowledges that she and Ward put in full work weeks to keep the facilities functioning.
On an average afternoon in the studio, Martha Hollenhorst of Hailey can be found working on one of her intricate figure sculptures. These days, she's doing heads. "It's her current obsession," Chubb said.
Hollenhorst is yet another former academic who earned her master's degree in fine art from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Today, she works for Atkinsons' Market, often putting her skills to work decorating cakes. While she has created edible teapots, working with eggs, sugar and flour is not the best spotlight for Hollenhorst's considerable skills. However, her studied figure sculptures are classically beautiful and marketable; in past summers, she has sold work at the Ketchum Arts Festival.
With a brick-clad gas-fired kiln, two electric kilns, a Raku oven and an endless supply of materials and tools, Boulder Mountain Clayworks offers opportunities for the entire community. For Ward, it is a "Field of Dreams"-like story.
"I thought that if I had a studio, some space, that people would come, and so they have," she said.
Get your hands dirty
Visit bouldermtnclay.com or call 726-4484 to find out which summer classes are right for you. Boulder Mountain Clayworks can be found under the red awnings at 471 East Tenth St., in the Ketchum light-industrial area. Prices for week-long summer camps range from $125 to $225. Punch cards are available for studio time: 15-hour cards are $65 and 30 hour cards are $120.