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Estrellita Ammirati

Janet Leatherwood demonstrates wheel throwing to guests at last Saturday's Open House
Ceramics studio and gallery find new home at Flowerfield

By Kyle Barr

As the potter’s wheel spins, ceramic artist Patrick Dooley plays his fingers along the side of the spinning clay like a harpist does a harp’s strings. The clay forms lips and edges. A thumb pressed clean in the center develops a hole and the lump of clay is slowly turned into an object, something tangible.

“You can turn clay into anything you want,“ Dooley said as his hands grow thick with the wet-brown of the clay. “There’s something about that tactile feel, being in control of that clay, turning it into something, something artistic, something functional. It’s creative.”

The nonprofit Brick Clay Studio & Gallery has finally opened in St. James. The new location at 2 Flowerfield joins others of its kind including The Atelier art studio and The Shard Art Shoppe. After two years of working to get it started, members are ecstatic to see their collective art education center and gallery finally become a reality. 

Patrick Dooley works on a clay piece.

“I feel the universe is on our side, I think we’re destined to be here,” gushed physical therapist and ceramic enthusiast Estrellita Ammirati during last weekend’s Open House as a huge smile stretched across her face. “If you saw what this place looked like 37 days ago … we had nothing, pretty much nothing.”

Many of the artists at The Brick Studio were artists who worked in the basement of Stony Brook University’s Union building, willing to teach community members and students who found their way into their space. In 2015 SBU declared it would be removing The Craft Center from the basement in preparation for the building’s renovations. 

“We were kicked out when the Union closed,” said member and ceramicist Astrid Wimmer.“There were 20 of us who wanted to go on and we had no place to go. So we formed this cooperative. We’re very excited and we worked very hard.”

Laura Peters gets ready to create.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and ceramicist Justine Moody, the group wanted to create their own space to practice their art and commune with each other. They set up a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 that had 123 people pledge over $18,000 to the project. The artists caught a break when they learned that Dowling College would be closing and they were able to acquire the ceramic department’s equipment including motorized pottery wheels, kilns and pugmill relatively cheap.

The original plan was to locate the studio in Rocky Point in a brick building near the Rocky Point Farmers Market at the corner of Prince and Broadway, but the group was unable to land the deal. 

“Rocky Point needed to be revitalized and Broadway was really suffering. They wanted something like this in town. A cultural center, not-for-profit, it was going to be bringing art into the community, and the community into art, and we really wanted that,” Vogelle said. “But we really couldn’t buy anything, and they were looking for someone to buy.”

Cat mugs by Russell Pulick for sale at the Open House last Saturday.

When the group settled on the space in St. James, they had originally walked into a barren warehouse-type room. The ceiling’s electric wires were hanging loose from the ceiling, the floor was bare, the concrete was unpainted and there was no counter space or shelving. It took several weeks of volunteer work to bring the space into a livable condition.

“The members are just amazing with their efforts. They’re workhorses, they’re worker bees,” Vogelle said. 

It’s hard to understate how important having a space to practice is to the artists at the brick studio. Stony Brook University Professor Janet Leatherwood had practiced as a child on a pottery wheel at home, some 30 years before she picked it up again when she found The Craft Center at the university. 

“I have a studio at home, so I could still make stuff, but it was such a community, such energy and so much input from other people,” Leatherwood shook her head. “It wasn’t the same.”

Russell Pulick describes his artistic process to visitors.

Longtime studio and production potter Russell Pulick was tasked with fixing many of the machines that were purchased from Dowling, and he said places like this are necessary for the community it provides.

“I have technical knowledge of these machines, and of glazing. Somebody else could probably do it, but it would be a learning process,” Pulick said. “I have most of this equipment at home, but this place is about the people, dedicated people, people who love clay, who love creating.” 

The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery is located at 2 Flowerfield, Suites 57 and 60, in St. James. The studio offers a variety of classes including Portraits in Clay and Wheel Throwing as well as eight-week workshops in advanced wheel throwing, summer camp for children and internships. 

Drop by this Friday, April 13, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. for the studio’s  first Clay Try-Day, a great opportunity to see if working with clay is something you would like to pursue. $30 per person. Preregistration is strongly recommended although walk-ins are welcome. For more information, call 631-250-9530 or visit www.thebrickstudio.org.

All photos by Kyle Barr

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