How did the Bray get started? How long has it existed?
The Archie Bray Foundation was founded in 1951 by brick maker Archie Bray and was the first artist residency program in the United States devoted solely to ceramics. With the help of Branson Stevenson and Peter Meloy, Archie intended the Bray to be “a place to make available for all who are seriously and sincerely interested in any of the branches of the ceramic arts, a fine place to work.”
Beginning with its first resident artists, Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos, the Bray has served as a leading workplace for ceramic artists and educators, providing what many Bray alumni describe as a seminal experience in their artistic careers. Since its beginnings the Archie Bray Foundation has provided an atmosphere of creative excellence for ceramic artists from throughout the world.
Early visitors to the Bray included Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, two of the 20th century’s most influential potters, and philosopher Soetsu Yanagi. Their visit in December of 1952 was a defining moment in the organization’s history. Now, more than fifty years later, the meeting has become a profound example of the promise and potential of the artists who work at the Bray, and the spirit of artistic exchange that continues to influence and inspire them long after they leave.
What are the “beehive kilns”?
The round brick structures located on the grounds of the Bray are the beehive kilns from the Western Clay Manufacturing Company. Only a handful of brick factories containing kilns such as these remain in North America. Originally fired with coal, they were converted to natural gas in 1931. Industrial and decorative bricks, sewer pipe, and tiles were all fired in these kilns.
What is the Brickyard?
Located on the south end of the grounds of the Bray are the remnants of the Bray brickyard, once known as the Western Clay Manufacturing Company. Founded over a hundred years ago, its history involved several family names: Thurston, Kessler, Switzer, and the Brays, but ultimately became the Western Clay Manufacturing Company in 1905. It produced various types of brick and tile, many examples of which you can find in historic Helena architecture. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The various structures that still remain were a part of the clay and brick production system, which included refining and mixing the clay as well as extruding, drying, and firing brick and tile. For years, the factory was a mainstay of the Helena economy, employing many from the community and producing building materials distributed throughout the Northwest.
The brick yard has not produced brick since 1961. It was purchased by the Foundation in 1984, and continues to be an important part of the landscape of the art center that Archie Bray once envisioned.
Where did the brick factory get clay?
The clay for the bricks came by rail from Blossburg, a town located 20 miles west of Helena.
What is a “resident artist”?
A “resident artist” is an artist who was invited by the Bray to make their ceramic work in a supported studio environment. Artists from all over the world apply for artist residencies at the ABF and are provided with a free studio, subsidized material costs, and direct financial support through stipends and fellowship awards. Those residents who are accepted spend from three months to two years developing their work in the nurturing creative environment provided by the Bray.
Where do the residents come from?
Although the majority of the Bray resident artists are from the US, many artists have come from around the world. The Bray has had residents from countries including: New Zealand, China, Korea, Ukraine, England, Thailand, Japan, Bolivia, Canada, Australia and many more.
Do the resident artists live at the Bray?
The Bray provides studio space, but does not provide housing for the artists. All of the artists live in the town of Helena and commute to the Bray.
Can I go in the resident building and watch artists working?
The Shaner Studio Building and Summer Studios are open to the public. In order to protect the privacy of the working artists, we ask that visitors do not enter the individual studios without permission from the artist.
Does the Bray offer classes? If so, when?
The Bray offers classes and workshops for people of all ages and abilities. Community classes are taught by our current resident artists four times a year. Community classes are offered for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. Workshops also take place in the summer months and cover special interest topics. We also provide week-long children’s classes in the summer and some one day workshops through out the year. Click here for dates and more specific information.
How many kinds of clay do you make at the Clay Business?
The Archie Bray Clay Business manufactures 19 moist pugged clays for all temperature ranges. Dry materials for the individual clay bodies come from all over North America. For a full listing of clays, check out the Clay Business.
Do you ship clay all over the country?
The Archie Bray Clay Business can ship clay to anywhere in the US and Canada.
Can I visit the Bray and take a tour? When are the grounds open?
The Grounds are open to the public during daylight hours seven days a week, year-round. A self-guided walking tour map is available in the mailbox in front of the Pottery Gallery.
For group tours please call the Bray at 406.443.3502.
Can I take the broken bricks or artwork from the grounds?
No, we ask that all the bricks and artwork remain on the Bray grounds. They are a part of what makes the Bray so special.
Can I bring my dog to the Bray?
Dogs can come to the Bray if they are on a leash and are picked up after. There are no animals allowed in any of the Bray buildings.
How big are the Bray grounds?
The Archie Bray Foundation rests on 26 acres of land.
What are the office hours?
The Office hours are Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.
The Gallery hours are Monday–Saturday 10 am–5 pm and Sunday 1–5 pm.
Clay Business hours are Monday–Friday, 9 am – 5 pm and Saturday 9 am–1 pm.