Inside Looking Out
East Sac clay studio brightens the neighborhood
By Zack Sherzad
clayARTstudio814 is equipped like any serious ceramics studio. There are squat kilns, wide wood-top work surfaces, potter’s wheels and glaze jars nestled on shelves, in crates, everywhere. What you won’t find is the tired trope of the suffering artist laboring in solitude.
About 14 studio artists rent spaces there, plus Sunday, a border collie/golden retriever mix who diligently patrols the building with ball in mouth. They (not the dog) come and go as they please, sharing projects, tools, advice and an abiding passion for ceramics.
Marsha Schindler owns clayARTstudio814, located off of Alhambra Boulevard in East Sacramento, just south of McKinley Park. She manages the renters and facilitates the studio’s events and classes. She has bright blue-gray eyes and a calm voice. As she speaks, she emphasizes her words with gestures, as if sculpting her speech from clay.
“It’s a very process-oriented medium,” Schindler says. “Unlike painting, it’s not immediate. You need a slab table, a slab roller, a kiln, glazes. The beauty of a collective is that we share these things, and spirit. It’s very different than just working by yourself in a room.”
The studio seems to have been inspired by Schindler’s past experiences with communality among artists. Before founding clayARTstudio814 six years ago, Schindler worked with about 20 other artists at Panama Pottery, the now-defunct centenarian pottery factory on 24th Street. It was “a typical artist’s environment,” Schindler says.
At clayARTstudio814, she’s replicated the best parts. To wander through the open studio is to wander through minds laid bare. You won’t find the half-finished sculptures, sketched prototypes and hastily scrawled notes in any gallery. The rawness and closeness are inspiring and intoxicating. There’s a tangible density to the space that has nothing to do with the workspace clutter—a sensation of expansive creativity stuffed in a smallish box, mingling like kimchi.
Unity among the artists resonates beyond the studio walls. Pre-pandemic, the collective routinely came together to raise money for charity, spread awareness of current events or workshop with the local community. They’ve donated pottery to River City Food Bank’s Empty Bowls fundraiser, opened shop for Sac Open Studios and hosted guest speakers from local colleges.
Mid-pandemic, Schindler and the other studio artists had to get creative in their pursuit of socially distant closeness. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Schindler says. “How do we adapt? How do we find a way to communicate and connect with others? We needed to bring some light to the world. Virtual’s just not the same—especially with three dimension. You lose a sense of scale and intimacy and lighting.”
The studio has a large window facing Alhambra. For a long time, Schindler saw it as just another source of light. One day, on a whim, she arranged a few sculptures in the window from an exhibit of hers called “Into the Woods”—a handful of tall, dyadic tree-women and a trio of curious foxes. “The idea was that these tree figures were looking outside, wistful, behind the large windows. It mirrored the feelings that the pandemic had brought on, being stuck inside, waiting,” Schindler says.
Since that first foray, the window gallery has hosted exhibits with themes such as winter, Dia de los Muertos, Valentine’s Day and animals. Like clay, the staging is process-oriented, not immediate. The exhibits develop gradually over a course of days, with clayARTstudio814 artists contributing individual pieces and arranging them as they appear.
Once the exhibit settles in, it represents a collective effort—a symbol of what we can accomplish when we come together.
“We’ve started getting cards in the mail slot just thanking us for being here,” says Schindler. “We delight in that.”
clayARTstudio814 is at 814 Alhambra Blvd. For more information, visit clayartstudio814.com.
Zack Sherzad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.