Clayworx: Fostering Art Education in the Community
Clayworx: Ceramic Arts Learning Centre, formerly known as the London Clay Art Centre, is setting a new precedent for clay education in Old East Village, London ON. The charitable arts organization was founded in 1981 to provide a shared studio for members of The London Potters Guild, to host more classes, and foster an appreciation for clay in London and the Southwestern Ontario region. Currently, Clayworx has around 40 active volunteers and runs approximately 70 classes a year, every day of the week, for 300 days of the year.
Volunteers from The London Potters Guild started a capital fundraising campaign in 2003 and purchased 664 Dundas St. in March 2008. Thus began the enormous task of iteratively raising additional capital funds and renovating the Victorian-era building in Old East Village over five years. Clayworx has always had devoted members and volunteers to help build a sense of artistic community thriving in the two-level space, with a retail shop and artist studios on the ground level and a workshop space on the second floor. Clayworx has also been at the forefront of conceiving, financially supporting, and facilitating the large-scale, community-engaged mosaics in Old East Village, led by ceramic artists Beth Turnbull Morrish and Susan Day, making it a landmark neighbourhood for public art in London.
In March 2023, the London Clay Art Centre and The London Potters Guild consolidated the two brands under the name Clayworx: Ceramic Arts Learning Centre. The initiative began under Clayworx’s former executive director, Darlene Pratt. She says, “we felt strongly that we needed to adopt an entirely new name that embodies the wonderful people and the inspiring place that brings them together. We wanted a name that is easy to understand, feels welcoming to everyone, and reflects our standing as the premier location for ceramic arts education in London and the region.” As Clayworx’s current executive director, Bep Schippers, explains, “Our new goal and vision is to provide everyone access to exceptional educational, artistic, and community building experiences with clay.” Schippers explains that the new brand is both playful and approachable featuring bright colours and the fundamental shapes used in all art forms, including ceramics.
Clayworx offers classes and workshops to support beginners working with clay and training and professional development specifically for emerging artists and artists of all levels. As Schippers further explains, “There are some people that just want to come here and make a couple of things and then go home and that's fantastic. Then we also have artists who want to build their skills and maybe eventually open their own studios and become exhibitors elsewhere in Ontario or [across] Canada."
The organization aims to provide an accessible space for anyone interested in learning to work with clay and practicing the ceramic art form. Schippers also details how Clayworx has been supported by instructors who have devoted countless hours to teaching ceramics to their students. Clayworx also engages BealArt students and alumni who have explored ceramics in their education nearby at H.B. Beal Secondary School.
Clayworx has also established itself as a leader in public art creation in London, placing Old East Village on the map with their many large-scale mosaics. The most recent mosaic project was installed on the new Indwell Embassy Commons building, by lead artist Beth Turnbull Morrish and assistant artists Taryn Imrie and Cassandra Robinson. This massive project includes three large-scale panels that surround the exterior of the building.
The mosaic panels comprise over 10,000 handmade tiles, created in workshops by artists and members of the community. As Turnbull Morrish details, “Early on in the design process, I had the opportunity to meet with some of the residents and staff of Indwell, as well as tour one of their other buildings. I asked them to express what is the true essence of Indwell, and the intention for its residents. Hope, belonging, and safety came up again and again, as well as the cycles in life that we all go through.”
The process of creating the large-scale mosaic panels was both a collaborative and labour-intensive one. The design and tile creation took 8 months and installation took 8 weeks. As Beth explains, “panel one depicts the dawn, a symbol of new beginnings, the centre panel shows a mid-day sun, a flowing river and blooming flowers, representing a thriving, love-filled life, and finally, in panel 3 we see birds in the sunset.” She also explains the symbolism behind the elements such as the “native Ontario flowers depicted, the shape of the Thames or Antler River, and the birds that represent peace and freedom, as well as being part of a flock and the ability to fly alone.”
For Clayworx’s next public art project, look down— mosaics will be inlaid in the sidewalks along the commercial corridor of the Old East Village. The sidewalk tiles were created by different community groups and organizations in the neighbourhood. Inspired by a tree with decorated leaves or “dyad” shapes, reminiscent of the London, Ontario logo, the project will bring a sense of storytelling and colour to Old East Village.
Clayworx has expanded its reach in London and beyond by offering accessible clay education while sticking close to its roots. The thread that brings it all together is the passion for arts education and community building. If you’re interested in taking ceramic classes or workshops, check out their upcoming classes and available programming. Make sure to also visit their on-site ceramics shop to view the creations of local artists who use Clayworx as their studio.