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Oldtown Pottery

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By April Wright, Reporter

Oldtown Pottery, a division of Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, is participating in Galax Downtown Association's Open House Weekend on Saturday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., with the grand opening of Galax's newest arts and cultural business — a true pottery studio.

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During this time, people can meet the Oldtown Pottery co-op members and eight guest artists; see pottery demonstrated; enjoy refreshments served in handcrafted wares; wander through the one-day-only sculpture garden; learn about all of CCSA's upcoming classes and take advantage of the opportunity to purchase unique gifts by local artisans.

The open house — hosted by co-op members Priscilla Melesco, Laura Steinberg, Alexis Jones and Cathleen Weathers — is free and open to the public. Also on display and for sale will be local art, pottery, sculpture and jewelry.

After renovation of the 110 E. Oldtown St. location, the pottery studio opened in April. However, this marks the first big kickoff.

“We want to work with the GDA, and this is a part of that,” said Penny Moseley, associate director of CCSA. “We want the public to see us up and open.”

CCSA's board of advisors and city officials plan to turn downtown Galax into a campus environment for the school. A part of Phase II of the art school, Oldtown Pottery is the first to begin this trend.

Moseley said the Weigands, local artists and owners of the building, approached CCSA organizers in hopes of turning the facility into a pottery studio.

“This is a public-private investment,” said Moseley. “We knew that the main building [located on North Main Street, at the corner of Grayson Street] was too refined for dirty arts. Because of the concrete walls and floors [at Oldtown Pottery], we saw the potential for this building.”

The permanent home for CCSA is undergoing construction and will open early next year.

Moseley said CCSA is hoping to recruit new co-op members and new students during the open house. Becoming a member of the studio allows access to its equipment: six wheels, two electronic kilns, a slab roller, display space for the gallery and clay, glazes and other accessories.

The membership cost includes a monthly fee for unlimited access to top-of-the line equipment. But that's a bargain, said Moseley, who spent $5,000 to set up a minimal amount of pottery equipment at her own home.

Some potters aren't not able to purchase equipment because it's so expensive.

“Being together creates creative energy for artists,” said featured artist Melesco.

CCSA is also forming a pottery guild to host monthly salons — gatherings of intellectual, social and cultural persons to increase knowledge through conversation and demonstrations — that will be open and free to the public.

These salons, or "Wheeling Wednesdays," will be held the second Wednesday of each month from 5:30-7:30 p.m., and artists will discuss pottery and show how to create pieces of art.

"People who have never done this before can come in and see what goes into it," said Moseley.

Also, Oldtown Pottery will host birthday parties. Children and adults can bring in their friends for their birthday and work with clay to create a piece of art. Cost is $15 per person.

Pottery classes through CCSA are being planned for 2010. Melesco has planned to teach Introduction to Pottery, starting Feb. 2 for children and adults.

As more potters become members of the studio, Moseley said Oldtown Pottery will begin to maintain regular hours.

Eight local artisan's work will be displayed at the Open House:

• Priscilla Dahl Melesco graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the New York State College of Ceramics in 1997. She is making pottery and ceramic sculpture from stoneware clay, mixed in small batches by hand from raw materials. She enjoys the process because it involves and combines science, art and nature. Melesco, inspired by the pastoral mountain beauty of Grayson County, thoroughly enjoys sharing her inspirations and experience with students of all ages.

• Cathleen Weathers, Intensive Care Unit nurse manger at TCRH with a 29-year nursing career, has been doing pottery for five years. She has taken classes through the community college and loves all forms of clay, mainly slab building's creativity and over-laying different glazes to create unique effects. Weathers dabbles in oil painting as a creative outlet and has recently begun making jewelry with the earthy elements of mother-of-pearl, abalone and stones. She plans to incorporate clay into her jewelry and elements of dichroic glass.

• Patrick O'Neill of the Pear Tree in Independence will teach a class in 2010 for CCSA. O'Neill is accomplished in graphic arts with a principle focus on fine jewelry and a heavy secondary emphasis on all types of sculpture. He is a 33-year career master jeweler, encompassing the design and fabrication of private commissions, limited editions, and freelance contemporary fashion accessories.

He studied art and architecture at Portland State University, completed a course in Chinese watercolor painting with a native artist instructor and completed a full apprenticeship with master platinumsmith Stewart Jones in Portland, Ore. Since 2001, O'Neill has continued to pursue his career as a metal smith, jeweler and sculptor in Independence, where he offers private commissions and limited editions.

• Russell Rigsbee from Independence will show his cut and welded steel pieces in the sculpture garden in the rear of the facility. Russell's motto is "Just do it. Get started and let the process guide you. Don't think about it and talk about it too much.”

Rigsbee's life has been one long progression of making things, building, constructing and creating. He has worked with wood, glass, tile, metal and many other materials. He learned stained glass the old way, as an apprentice to a master craftsman. In recent years he's learned welding and metal sculpture, also learning from masters of the art.

Commissions include huge metal gates and wall hangings. His work called "Fire" is 10-by-6 feet and "Wind" is 9-by-6 feet.

Whatever the medium, Rigsbee combines traditional and abstract, secular and religious in a new light.

• Lee Schores rarely exhibits his work, but has agreed to give the public a glimpse into his creative process.

"Poetry is composed of words, which are composed of letters, which are composed of lines. Lines are of less importance than when assembled into letters, which are less important till assembled into words," Schores explains.

"A poem works when the right lines are made into the right letters forming the right words used with the right selection and arrangement. This is synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That is the point behind my sculptures."

Schores gathers parts like a poet gathers letters and words. Carefully selecting and assembling unrelated parts, he strive to achieve a finished product that somehow works in a way that impacts the mind of the beholder.

Some of  his sculptures appear simple, while others are complex. His collection of lines, letters and words manage to work in ways he finds pleasing.

• Terry Clark is a founding board member for CCSA and has been instrumental in developing Oldtown Pottery. He will be on hand to give visitors a tour and show his wood-turned art pieces.

Clark is the owner of Three Peaks Crafts, a retail and production shop in Troutdale, named for the ridge that rises behind the shop. Clark has been a wood turner for 30 years.

"My turnings are from wood I cut in Grayson County and are mostly made from walnut, cherry and maple, although any wood with an interesting grain pattern is fair game," said Clark.

Clark is a self-taught wood turner, even though he has a degree in Industrial Arts from Berea College in Berea, Ky. In addition to being a member of the board of directors for CCSA and The Cave House Craft Co-op in Abingdon, he shows his work at the Cave House, Gallery 108 in Roanoke, The Smart Gallery in West Jefferson, N.C., and City Gallery Fine Art in Galax.

He is a member of The American Association of Woodturners, The Grayson Artisans, and The Holston Mountain Arts and Crafts Co-op.

• Ian and Jo Lydia Craven are world-renowned for their hand-built porcelain dinnerware, wall sculptures, bowls and vases.

Jo Lydia impresses antique lace into each piece of thin porcelain clay before shaping the unique free-form bowls, plates, cups, serving dishes and decorative designs that have been called "sensuous" and "romantic."

Ian then finishes the hand-crafted pottery with his own homemade glazes in creative colors, which are described as "moody,” "gem-like" and "shimmering." The final result of this collaboration has been called "elegant."

Oldtown Pottery is located at 110 E. Oldtown St., Galax. For more information, to become a member or sign up for a class, call 236-3500. Parking is available just across the street at the corner of Carroll and Oldtown Streets, in the Guynn's Old Mill Furniture lot.