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The city's ceramics hub is holding its annual fundraiser this month.

The nonprofit Clay Studio of Missoula's "Potsketch" concept is intended to be democratic. Artists are sent a modestly sized square of paper as their blank canvas to elaborate upon as they see fit. The small scale provides artists a small format to work with, and also keep the prices for the auction affordable. 

Artists being artists, the submissions have become more and more elaborate over the years, said Shalene Valenzuela, the studio's executive director.

University of Montana ceramics professor Trey Hill slip-cast an antler and mounted it on a square black frame.

Nationally recognized sculptor of Robert Harrison of Helena donated a piece in his house-themed, assemblage style, comprising a chicken-wire house filled with a collection of objects — a ceramic house and eggs among them.

The live auction, meanwhile, focuses on full-scale ceramic pieces, with just over 24 items with estimated values that run between $100 and $1,000.

Adrian Arleo, an artist based in the Bitterroot Valley who shows her work nationally and internationally, contributed a trio of cups. Each is carefully sculpted in the form of the bottom half of a face, with delicately sculpted lips. Julia Galloway, a UM ceramics professor who recently won a $50,000 grant, donated a pitcher. Crista Ann Ames, a recent UM MFA graduate and recent Clay Studio resident, donated a sculptural work. Steve Young Lee, resident art director at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, is donating cups.


The theme this year is "It's Electric!" with added punctuational enthusiasm.

During the auction, they'll put in an "ask" for open donations toward the purchase of two new electric kilns. The current ones, which are used to fire the majority of the classes' work, are more than 20 years old and "they've seen a lot of abuse," Valenzuela said.

The total cost is roughly $7,000, and they've raised $1,000 of that through a community grant from NorthWestern Energy.

As the kilns have aged, they've become more inefficient.

"Getting something that is more efficient for firing purposes will help us in the long run saving money," she said.

The auction raises roughly a fifth of the studio's annual budget. The studio offers community classes for adults and kids. It also has studio spaces available for rental, giving artists access to the expensive equipment required for the art form. They also host resident artists, who may come from Montana or far-flung parts of the country, to teach classes and develop their work.

It also has an expanded gallery exhibition space with regular monthly exhibitions and a sales gallery for its members and residents.

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