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Justine Moody

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

Miller Place art teacher Julia Vogelle helped form The Brick Studio and Gallery nonprofit. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Who better to bring vibrancy and revitalization to downtown Rocky Point than a group of local artists? With the support of elected officials, a new nonprofit organization is leading the charge to help enrich, educate and electrify the Rocky Point community and surrounding areas.

The Brick Studio and Gallery is an art collective of more than 20 local artists and instructors with aspirations to grow and develop into a full-fledged community studio and hub.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and professional ceramicist Justine Moody, the group blossomed around the time Stony Brook University’s Craft Center and ceramics studio closed for renovations in January 2016, leaving potters and artists without a space to do what they love.

Pottery making will be offered at The Brick Studio and Gallery. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Vogelle and Moody, who shared dreams of opening up a cooperative to bring art back into the community, met in the wake of the Craft Center shutdown and enlisted the help of the “homeless” artists to form the organization.

Since then, the project has grown, culminating in a Kickstarter campaign with an ambitious goal of $18,000 to turn a dream into a reality. With 120 backers, their goal has already been exceeded, raising a total of $18,150.

The money will cover the start-up costs to find a location and equip and supply the studio with 14 pottery wheels, two electric kilns, kiln shelves, clay, glazes and ceramic tools. According to the fundraiser page, the studio “has the potential to begin a renaissance in historic Rocky Point, with other artists and artisans joining in bringing life to other empty buildings” and plans to open in early spring.

“My vision is to have this cultural center energize and bring all the money back into the hamlet,” Vogelle said. “Rocky Point has a lot to offer. People 16 and up can come; we’d have services for students, seniors, veterans and anyone who would like to work. I want to look at Broadway in Rocky Point as ‘artist’s row.’”

In addition to pottery, glass and jewelry making, the studio will be a venue for documentary showings, live poetry, trivia nights and  live music.

Moody expanded on the grand vision.

“I think it’s going to become a destination place … I don’t know that Rocky Point has one, and there are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own,” Moody said.

She’s hoping it could be a place to attract locals during the summer to take lessons, and others from outside the community on Friday nights, saying she envisions big events on weekends and other pop-up events throughout the year.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) believes The Brick has the potential to be a tourist attraction that could boost Rocky Point’s foot traffic and revenue — much-needed since the state built the bypass, which encourages traffic to go around the area, hitting downtown businesses especially hard.

“There are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own.”

— Justine Moody

“So many of our residents come in from the Long Island Expressway, from Sunrise Highway, and they look to go east from the North Fork, and my hope is that maybe they’ll turn left and go west to experience what Rocky Point and Shoreham have to offer,” Anker said. “There are so many high-level artists that live in the area and this will hopefully give them a way to stay local and promote their craft to the public.”

Anker has been involved in North Shore revitalization plans since 2011, participating with the Rails to Trails project and the clean-up of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and said that art is not just trendy.

“We underestimate how important art is, it needs to be cultivated,” she said. “It’s part of our culture and it has an educational component. It will definitely benefit downtown Rocky Point.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who contributed $100 to the art collective’s Kickstarter campaign, said she’s so excited about the studio and points to Vogelle and Moody’s hard work and dedication.

“They’re very dedicated and committed and they’re not looking for somebody else to solve their problem … grass isn’t growing under feet at all and it’s hard not to pay attention to that,” Bonner said.

As a 30-year Rocky Point resident, the councilwoman is hopeful that the artists can bring people back to downtown Rocky Point and trigger change.

Vogelle feels the same, stating that she believed that the art can bring value to homes and surrounding businesses.

“If you put art into a community, people want to move in,” she said. “If you put music in town, people want to gather around and enjoy it. A cultural center like this always connects with schools in the district and it will also help people realize there’s so much culture that’s hidden. And anyone can get hooked on ceramics — the elderly, veterans, teens. Once you touch mud, you never go back.”

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