Back-Alley Community Building

Last week I and a number of volunteers and UP staff prepared for, and poured a small concrete slab in the parking lot behind the Union Project along Samantha Way. All this was done in preparation for a second gas kiln which was generously donated to the Union Project by the Manchester Craftsman's Guild this winter. Early last week as volunteers from Winchester Thurston school were helping to dig the foundation for the slab Executive Director, Jeffrey Dorsey and Ceramics Program Manager, Jenna Vanden Brink and I discussed how a new shed and enclosure around the two kilns could transform part of the back lot into a outdoor ceramics area. Jeffrey mentioned that he would love to see a small outdoor work space integrated into the plan at some point and that he thought having artists from the Ceramics Cooperative working outside when the weather is nice might help to promote community. Though I am always excited when opportunities arise for clay to be part of community building, the part of what Jeffrey said that originally excited me, was the thought of outdoor work space!

On Thursday we poured the slab, and as a precaution I decided to set up a few tables and sit outside and glaze about 150 pots that would travel with me the following day to be fired in our wood kiln in the Laurel Highlands. The concrete was still setting up and I wanted to make sure no one came around the corner and found themselves with a shoe full of concrete (both for their sake and my own). As I sat outside I began to see the familiar faces of our neighbors, getting home from work, Walking down the alley, coming from the drugstore or the bus stop and crossing through side yard. Every face was familiar, belonging to one of the many people that like myself call this neighborhood home. But on this day something was different. Instead of the exchange of a cordial greeting almost every person stopped, asked me what I was doing, If I had made all these pots, where I had made them, when I would sell them, etc. I continued to glaze and as more familiar faces stopped and engaged me in conversation I realized the true value of the outdoor workspace Jeffery had mentioned was not the ability to make pots in the fresh air but rather the opportunity to engage and be a part of our community.

Stay tuned for updates as we work to build our studio during Maintance week and prepare for the installation of our newest kiln.

The finished concrete slab and the future site of community building

Joseph Delphia is a ceramic artist living and working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Joseph has been making woodfired pottery, teaching classes and working in the Ceramics Cooperative at Union Project since 2007.