Helena: Archie Bray Foundation, 2017
28 Pages, published October 1, 2017
This catalog from Archie Bray Foundation features writing on five different Bray fellows of contemporary ceramic arts. Each year the Bray invites a writer into their realm to survey their rich creative community, spend time with the artists, and create a body of writing guided by their experience. Their 2017 writer-in-residence is Sarah Archer. All of the writing in this catalog was produced by Archer.
This year’s fellows include Ling Chun, Nicholas Danielson, En Iwamura, MyungJin Kim, and Noah Riedel.
My first impression of Montana was classic Bray. When I landed at the cozy, wood-paneled airport in Helena, I knew only that a first-year resident artist named En would be picking me up. In the crowd, I spotted a fashion-forward young Japanese man wearing neon-pink headphones around his neck, who turned out to be En Iwamura. He smiled at me and waved. There is somehow nothing so “ceramics” as the experience eating fried chicken in a roadside bar in Helena while getting an insider’s take on contemporary Japanese politics from an artist who was born in Kyoto in the late 1980s.
My experience as the Jentel Critic at the Archie Bray Foundation was like this from beginning to end: so ‘American’ in its surroundings at times it felt foreign to me as a native New Yorker, and so cosmopolitan in its mix of artists from around the world that it had the novelty of a much more exotic trip. The Jentel Critic’s primary role is to get to know the first-year resident artists and write about their work for their group exhibition. Because the Bray is as much a place as it is an organization, it’s impossible to separate this experience from the unique cultural context of Helena, or its awe- inspiring landscape. Ordinary tasks like walking to meet a resident for an interview, talking with them about their works, or making coffee in the shared kitchen, all happen in a physical environment that’s redolent with 20th century ceramics history, bursting with world-class equipment and supplies, and shadowed by dramatic green and mountainous landscape populated by more cows and horses than people on a typical day.
The Bray was famously called “…a fine place to work” by Archie Bray Sr. in 1951. But “fine” doesn’t really cover it. It’s extraordinary and life-changing for the residents who spend two years there. Two weeks can be life-changing, too.