‘Inspiring’ Gilpin Clay Studio art tour highlight

ClayStudioBy Jennifer Pund
The entrance to the Gilpin County Recreation Center is more lively this summer as students and artists with the Gilpin Clay Studio have been busy creating pieces for a new Sculpture Garden. The studio offers a friendly atmosphere, mutual inspiration and high level of education as well as freedom to use the studio with the “drop in”open studio time. Discover the studio and check out recent student and teacher projects on the 4th annual Gilpin County Art Studio Tour, Sept. 19-20.

The Gilpin Art Studio Tour—featuring more artists than ever this year—is organized by local artists to “foster an appreciation of the arts in Gilpin County” that coincides with the fall aspen viewing. Everyone is invited to visit the Gilpin Clay Studio along with 18 other stops, representing many different styles and mediums, around the county. A Meet-the-Artist Preview Night, Sept. 10 from 6-7:30 p.m., takes place at the Gilpin County Library.

Steve Briggs, a self titled “Artist-Potter” heads the Gilpin Clay Studio where he teaches along with Gabrelle Gewirtz. Together they encourage all inspiring “mud babies” to try their hand at throwing clay.

“We really have a ‘mish-mosh’ of folks like people who haven’t done clay before, maybe they tried in school and want to see what it’s like again, we have moms, scientist, gardeners, professionals. It’s an incredible array of people, which is great,” Gewirtz said.

Gewirtz studied clay in school and discovered the studio’s “drop-in” time for anyone with clay experience. A punch card gives access to the studio, electric and gas kilns, supplies, tools, and equipment. “That’s how I started here, through the punch card, and then eventually, just to have more sense of community, I started taking the classes and loved it. And, now I’m teaching,” she said.

Briggs and Gewirtz have similar styles of teaching preferring to let a students’ creativity emerge naturally. “Everybody has their own style, we just try to teach people techniques and then they can find their own voice. That’s what’s so wonderful,” Gewirtz said. “Steve and I are very much into our students experimenting, figuring it out and just learning to work the clay.”

Clay Studio student Susan Green, finds herself in the studio three to four times a week. “I love it. I have been a member for the past year and each class introduces me to new projects and knowledge. The instructors are very experienced and my classmates offer a wealth of information,” she said. “It’s fun to get together with this group to learn, create and bounce ideas off one another. The classes provide a fun and educational platform… and offers guidance and instruction with lots of room for your own creativity.”

First timers benefit from the years of education brought to the Clay Studio classes. Occasionally a special session will be offered where students can learn more about a particular style, technique or process. Using their extensive experiences with clay, Briggs and Gewirtz give students a deeper understanding of pottery. “Due to our backgrounds, [Steve and I] get a little nerdy when we start talking about clay, but it can be a great advantage to the [students] because it’s more than they will get at a ‘paint-a-pot’ place, but it’s less intense than if they were to take a college class,” Gewirtz said. “We try to get the students involved in learning more about the working of ceramics than just doing it and give them some of the technical background about clay instead of just saying, ‘make something.’”

ClayStudio2Following a theme of garden sculptures, the students and artists of the Gilpin Clay Studio have spent the warmer months creating unique, whimsical, and functional pieces to highlight the Sculpture Garden at the entrance of the Gilpin  Recreation Center. “This inspired people to do things they wouldn’t necessarily have done,” the teacher said. “So a bunch of people made bird baths where they wouldn’t have… and stretch themselves in ways they haven’t.”

Gewirtz says the studio is a place to get causal yet, in-depth, instruction in a relaxed, friendly, community environment. “This is a place where you are going to learn about how to work a medium and you will learn it from nuts to bolts,” she said. “It’s a place that you walk in a little trepidatiously, and then you find a family.”

The Gilpin Clay Studio is one of 19 stops on the Gilpin Studio Arts Tour, which is organized by local artists to foster an appreciation of the arts in Gilpin County. The family-friendly, free event gives artists an opportunity to demonstrate their craft and offer works for sale. The tour runs Sept. 19-20 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. with the Meet the Artist Preview Night scheduled for Sept. 10, from 6-7:30 p.m., at the Gilpin County Library.

With more artists participating this year, there is a wider array of styles to enjoy while taking the self-guided tour around the County. Maps can be found in many locations across the county, at any participating artist studio or online. Look for marked signs along the tour route in and around Gilpin County, indicating each stop.

“The thing that’s great about the Gilpin Clay studio stop is that it’s a collection of artists, so you are going to see multiple different types of work,” Gewirtz said. “Ten different people, 10 different personalities, 10 different styles. It’s nice.”

The Gilpin Clay Studio will be open both days of the tour with artists working and selling their own pieces. “If they sell their art, they get to keep 100 percent of it,” Gewirtz explained. Watch for new classes beginning in October.

This year the tour welcomes Mimi Ritter, primitive wool, hooked and penny rugs; Walter Perryman, sculptor; Les Barstow, photographer; Donna Miller, watercolor and fantasy artist; and Mary Bell, glass worker and silversmith.

Other artists on the tour include Violet Aandres, watercolor and collage; Gabbrielle Gewirtz, clay; David Serrano, oil paintings; Julie Ikler, mosaics; Bambi Hansen, candles; Tom Cowherd, copper and sterling silver jewlery;  Willy and Roger Lickey, wooden functional art pieces; Gary Kragenbrink, welded sculptures; Forrest Anderson, pottery; Virgina Unseld, plein air western landscapes.

The Gilpin County Library is located at 15131 Hwy. 119 north of Black Hawk. Visit for Gilpin Clay Studio information and classes and for a studio map and additional details.

Originally published in the Sept. 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly

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