On a quiet country road, the pottery wheels at Saratoga Clay Arts Center are spinning on a big, breezy, screened-in porch instead of in its indoor classroom. The artists are wearing face masks, and yes, to keep everyone safe from you-know-what, the wheels are six feet apart. “We’re having our classes outside,” says artist and director Jill Fishon-Kovachick. “And that’s going to continue until it’s cold.”
Nine years ago, that same can-do attitude, plus her devotion to a community of artists at Skidmore College, got Fishon-Kovachick fired up to create her own local arts center. She bought a dilapidated nursing home in Schuylerville, eight miles northeast of Saratoga Springs, and transformed the 13,000-square-foot space into a marvelous mecca of clay, where eco-friendly rooftop solar panels run the pottery wheels.
Today, there’s really no place like Saratoga Clay Arts in the region. The center hosts wheel-throwing and hand-building classes for adults and children, workshops with world-class artists, artist residencies and crazy-popular events like Clay Night Out (think paint and sip). It even has its own art gallery and rental studios for artists. And did we mention the seven indoor and outdoor kilns? “We have people of all ages and different careers,” says Fishon-Kovachick of the artists that flock to the center. “We’ve brought in people from all over the country.”
Besides clay, Fishon-Kovachick has also dabbled in mediums such as metal, fiber, glass and jewelry. But clay is her first love. “It’s my yoga,” she says. “It’s very freeing. You can touch it; it’s forgiving; it allows me to be really spontaneous.” Her own large, clay vessel works are both symmetrical and abstract, while her figurative works evoke gestural movements, with textures inspired by geological formations. When the COVID-19 crisis temporarily closed the arts center, and Fishon-Kovachick was stuck at home, she made a series of small porcelain warrior figures. “As I get older, I feel that the work that I’m doing is expressing either what we are dealing with in our world or personally what I’m doing,” she says. She always finds time for her own work. She exhibits it nationally, and in our area, her pieces can be viewed at The Laffer Gallery in Schuylerville.
Growing up in Westchester County, Fishon-Kovachick first got stuck on clay at age 11 at Buck’s Rock Performing & Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, CT. When she majored in art education at Skidmore, her mentor was Regis Brodie, the celebrated clay artist and art professor emeritus who is still her close friend. For 17 years, while raising her children, Sarah and Harrison, Fishon-Kovachick returned to Skidmore as a continuing education instructor. When that program ended, more than two dozen students and fellow artists followed her to Schuylerville. “I did this,” she says, “to bring people together and teach people what clay is all about.”
This fall, with COVID precautions in place, the arts center is bringing people together again, both virtually and in person. Lip Service, a juried show of 100 cups and other drinking vessels, is in the center’s own Schacht Gallery through September 26. The Ceramic Art of Peter Callas opens October 3, and then there’s Clayfest, a holiday exhibit. Maybe most fun is the center’s Chili Bowl. Every January, hundreds of people raise funds for charities and dance to reggae music as local chefs compete and spoon their chili into handmade pottery bowls (Osteria Danny won last year). “I’m hoping that we can run this event,” Fishon-Kovachick says. “If we can’t, we’ll just make it super special next year. I love a challenge. For me, this has always been a joy.”