The recently opened Taos Ceramics Center is establishing a creative space for local Taos artists, and has ambitions to become a national and international destination for ceramicists and clay aficionados.
For an art journalist from New York, inured to the kitsch of the Taos art scene, the new Taos Ceramics Center comes as stunning surprise. Last fall local residents Jules and Georgia Epstein along with four partners bought the Taos Lighting Center off Estes Es road, just beyond Ace Hardware, and transformed the space into 4200 square feet of state-of-the-art studios, a gallery, and even a comprehensive store for ceramics supplies.
About the gallery first, since this is the space that greets visitors to the TCC. With floors and pedestals painted in warm earth tones, and objects illuminated by strategic track lighting, it’s an exceptionally attractive setting for the center’s first show, called One Community. The Epsteins invited painters and ceramicists from the Taos area to submit their best works and the result is a show that highlights the strengths and differences of artists working particularly in ceramics (though paintings from Marcia Oliver, Gretchen Ewert, and Anne Bruce add to the mix, as well as a C-print by AnnaBush Crews). The works range from the ethereal, like Ani Garrick’s whisper-thin porcelain Fragile Vessels, to Cork Lillick’s whimsical amalgams of vaguely organic shapes (echoed in his twisty figurative paintings, which look like homages to Francis Bacon). Veteran claymeister Hank Saxe is on hand with recent works that suggest possibilities for monumental statements on a small scale, and Ewert’s mixed-media pieces in clay, wood, and gold leaf are modern-day interpretations of ancient divinities. There is plenty here that could be put to practical use, like Georgia Epstein’s Raku Bottle and Ethereal Box, or Kim Treiber’s mugs and vase, but on the whole, these are sensuous productions meant to delight the eye and coincidentally survey the contemporary possibilities for ceramics, which have come a long way since George Ohr first pushed the boundaries of clay 100 years ago.
Adjacent to the galleries are the store, a small meeting room, and 2600 square feet of studio space, where classes take place and private studio rentals are available (classes in everything from wheel throwing to surface design, limited to a COVID-safe six students, started this week, and most have sold out.) A number of flexible memberships guarantee studio time, and an outdoor area will eventually accommodate seven kilns and a large outdoor classroom to be used six to seven months of the year. Clay artists formerly had to go all the way to Albuquerque to get supplies, but the TCC store will soon be stocking all the necessities.
That all of this came together in less than nine months is something of a miracle. The Epsteins, who live in Arroyo Hondo, bought the building with funds from a limited partnership in November 2019 and completed most of the work themselves. “I did the space planning, much of the rehab and lighting, and Georgia did a large portion of the painting, which required more than 35 gallons,” says Jules. “We had a few outside contractors for electrical and some carpentry, and much of the furniture throughout was built on-site with the help of TCC members and partners.”
Though familiar figures at Taos art events, the Epsteins are relative newcomers to the community. In 2013, the couple moved here permanently from Boston with two adolescent daughters after buying a second home a few years earlier and falling in love with the area. “Plain and simple, we loved the environment.” Says Jules, who sold a successful graphic design firm he had built over a 30-year period. “The natural beauty, the great weather, and of course, the arts and artists.”
When the Epsteins’ younger daughter went off to college, Georgia found herself with time on her hands and wandered into Taos Clay, a small facility that offered classes and equipment in El Prado. “I was fascinated by what was going on and signed up for a wheel class,” she says. She also enrolled in the ceramics program at the University of New Mexico in Taos and worked with Lee Akins, the head of the department, whom she describes as “instrumental in sparking a love of ceramics. He’s a teacher who doesn’t impose his style on you and supports all of your crazy ideas” (he will be teaching at the TCC in October). When Taos Clay closed (it is reportedly being turned into an art therapy center), the Epsteins first hatched the idea for another ceramics center. “I had enough information to really know how to make this place work,” says Georgia.
As for the separation of duties, Georgia is manager of the studio and the whole facility, and Jules is in charge of marketing. Plans are in the works for an artist in residence every six months or so (on hold, obviously, because of the pandemic) and the ultimate goal is to turn Taos Ceramics into a national and even international destination for ceramicists and clay aficionados.
The next gallery show is planned for early December (One Community will close mid-November), but a theme is not yet in place. “We’ll always have mixed mediums. It won’t be all ceramics,” says Jules. “For 13 years we’ve been building relationships with the art community here. Now we want to reach out and attract ceramicists from outside the area.”