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Lee Stuurmans, studio manager at the Clay Studio of Missoula, paints the wall shelves Wednesday to be installed in the ceramics center's expanded sales and show gallery space. The grand re-opening is set for Friday with a group show curated by the Montana Clay collective.

Come Friday, the Clay Studio of Missoula will finally have room to spread out.

The nonprofit ceramics center is finishing up a long-awaited expansion of its sales gallery, where member artists and residents display their work, and its exhibition gallery, where it hosts monthly solo and group shows.

With a large window and glass door, the gallery space is roomy, where it used to be more like a hallway, said Shalene Valenzuela, the studio's executive director.

In its previous configuration, visitors walked through a narrow hall into the sales gallery, which was often cramped during receptions and allowed only limited access to people with mobility issues.

"This will allow people to mingle and spend time amongst the work," Valenzuela said.

Lee Stuurmans, the studio manager and a ceramic artist as well, said the larger room offers more flexibility between the two galleries, depending on a particular show.

"An artist comes to look at the space, and they know immediately what they have to work with," he said.

"The biggest limitation is that we used to have a 30-inch door to the space, so there couldn't be any work bigger than that, but now pretty much any work can get through."

He mentioned two residents, Koral Halperin and Crista Ann Ames, who are building pieces that likely wouldn't fit into the gallery as it was.

The grand re-opening is set for Friday with a group exhibition, "Small Works from a Big State," a show curated by Montana Clay, a statewide collective that connects ceramic artists with resources like ceramics centers, university programs, galleries and more.

Valenzuela said the site, montanaclay.org, is an impressive venture that shows the volume and diverse range of ceramic art in Montana.

The show was designed to travel to a national educators' conference in Kansas City earlier this year, hence the title.

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The Clay Studio isn't done with additions for the summer yet.

At its annual Potsketch fundraiser earlier this year, the studio raised enough money thanks to a matching offer from an anonymous donor to build another kiln.

The car kiln, a front-loading model with a track system, will give artists a chance to fire larger, figurative works.

"This opens a great range of possibilities for our community and our residents," Valenzuela said.

With its other kilns, ceramicists could build large works in pieces to be assembled after firing, but that method doesn't work with all artists' visions. The car kiln also requires less of a time commitment that the studio's large wood-fired kilns.

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On First Friday, the new gallery will be open from 5:30-9 p.m. at the Clay Studio, located at 1106 A Hawthorne St. on the Westside with live music by Aaron Jennings.

The studio is also taking part in the Northside/Westside Bike Challenge. Participants can get a passport stamped at the studio, Real Good, the Missoula Community Food Co-op, Zootown Arts Community Center, Imagine Nation Brewing and Draught Works. After getting a fully stamped passport, you can enter a drawing to win prizes from those participating organizations.

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