The sun has set behind the Blue Ridge Mountains cradling Asheville. On Clingman Avenue in the River Arts District stands a large warehouse that’s home to Odyssey ClayWorks. It’s all lit up and buzzing with the spirit of creativity and inspiration.
“Our mission here is to build community through the artistic medium of clay,” said Halima Flynt, program director at Odyssey ClayWorks. “We not only see clay as kind of this vehicle for the work that we’re doing, we also realize that what’s going on here is so much more than clay.”
For decades, the property has remained a haven for longtime potters and beginners looking to dig into clay and into their minds, too. The two worlds come together for the sake of creation and camaraderie.
“Community outreach is something at the heart of who we are here,” Flynt said. “The underlying theme is to create a sense of community within these walls, and to take that love found here and put it out into the world.”
Even before the River Arts District became world renowned for its numerous art studios and galleries, Odyssey ClayWorks was part of the proverbial earth from which so much beauty and culture emerged in this neighborhood. Aside from the studios and kilns, there’s also a co-op for artists to promote and sell their work.
“One of the things that I love about clay is that you could be doing it for a hundred years, and yet still not learn everything there is to know about this craft. It keeps people humble,” Flynt smiled. “And when you hold a piece of pottery, you start to see the hands of the person that created it. You can visualize what they did to achieve the design and shape of a piece. It’s a pretty powerful thing to connect to an artist like that.”
With around 25 studio assistants and several resident artisans on site, there’s a treasure trove of expertise and passion for clay. This expertise is not lost on those who take one of the countless classes or workshops offered.
“We want to be a well of information and expertise. There are people from any skill range, background, or demographic coming in and picking up from where they left off or simply starting from scratch,” Flynt said. “And one of our main goals is to never let money come between people who want to touch clay. This is why we have scholarship programs, tuition assistance, and a veterans program.”
Wandering around the floor of Odyssey ClayWorks, Flynt can’t help but get a little misty-eyed when asked about why, in the grand scheme of things, it’s important that places like this hotbed of creativity exist.
“This place is a home away from home for our artists and students. You can truly be yourself when you’re here,” Flynt said. “This is a safe place to make mistakes, to learn, and to grow. There are so many people who were told early on by someone that they could never be an artist. Everyone is an artist, and we’re here to bring out that light in you.”
This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to request your free copy.