Helena's Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts is officially a nationally significant place.
The foundation sits on the site of the Western Clay Manufacturing Company, which was listed on the National Register in 1985. But the Bray itself, which was founded in 1951, and the resident artists who have worked there since then, have made a lasting impression on modern ceramic art.
“All the artists that have worked there shape the space and leave an imprint of the work they do. You can’t walk through the brickyard or pottery grounds and not see how many people have worked there and the beauty of the things they’ve created,” Chere Jiusto, director of the Montana Preservation Alliance, said. “There’s something so much bigger and more organic going on than a lot of historic places. It hasn’t stopped growing in importance.”
Jiusto wrote the documentation necessary to include the Archie Bray Foundation, and not just the property on which it sits. It was recognized on Dec. 1.
The Bray was founded in 1951 and is the birthplace of studio ceramics in the country. Archie Bray and fellow artists Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos, along with friends Branson Stevenson and Peter Meloy, established the foundation on the grounds of the Western Clay Manufacturing Company.
Jiusto said the Bray was the first ceramics residency program in the country and is still a thriving center for artists. The Bray has provided space for more than 600 resident artists and hosted countless classes and workshops.
“It has resonance to a much broader sector of our society than just the people who lived in Montana,” she said. “It had important influence over the art community. It really did become a national movement in the art world.”
The Bray is one of 78 nationally significant properties in Montana. For seven years, the Montana Preservation Alliance worked with the Bray to stabilize the beehive kilns and evaluate how the brickyard can be restored. Jiusto said the Archie Bray Foundation recently completed its education building and is considering a project to expand its administrative space into the old tileworks building.
“Now in its 66th year, the location commonly known as the Bray is widely regarded as an international incubator for artists working with clay to advance their work and expand their vision,” Jiusto wrote in the registration form.
Founding artists and past directors have art exhibited in the Smithsonian Institute’s Renwick Gallery of American Craft and another national and international museum collections. The Bray inspired other programs in Montana like the Red Lodge Clay Center and the Missoula Clay Studio.