The Archie Bray Foundation

When June was leaving on her trip to have a two month residency in Basin, Montana my memories flooded back to the days when I would drive from Helena to Basin to have lunch or to go to Boulder to the Hot Springs for a weekend retreat. My favorite spot to nurture the creative was the Archie Bray Foundation, east of Helena. Here at the grounds of the Bray ceramic studio, I made some of my best costume sketches while I sat in the gazebo after walking around the studios and viewing the works of the current group of residents.

This amazing place of creativity was begun in 1951. Archie Bray, a brick maker from England, founded the studio adjacent to his brick yard. Bray began the foundation after encouragement and support from Peter Meloy a local attorney, judge and part time ceramist, his brother Hank Meloy, an instructor of painting at Columbia University in New York, and Branson Stevenson, a potter from Great Falls. The first summer students from Montana State University in Bozeman, Rudy Autio, Peter Voulkos and Kelly Wong were residents, worked at the brickyard to earn dollars, and the first building of this now 56 year old foundation was erected.

Rudy Autio went on to start the ceramics department at the University of Montana in Missoula. His vessels often had linear drawings that are reminiscent of a Matisse drawing. T-shirts with replications of his art are still favorites in Montana.


Peter Voulkos began his career after earning his MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts. He produced a line of functional dinnerware and began earning national recognition for his ceramic sculptures. He is known for his abstract expressionist ceramic sculptures which crossed over the line between art and craft and he is renowned for his larger than life ceramic sculptures. Voulkos worked with a number of potters and has a visiting artist residency in his name. John Mason, who did the piece below, was one of Voulkos’ students.


The resident program provides a summer season of lectures and slide shows at the Holter Museum in Helena and the art shows at the Bray or in galleries in the area are fodders for design inspiration for all creative folk. It was my good fortune to have ten seasons of inspiration from the Bray and its resident potters. It is worth a bit of time to explore this place if you ever travel through Helena Montana.

Some places to read about the history are:

To read about David Shaner former resident director of the Bray:

To see a retrospective on the influence of the Bray on ceramics:


Often I find that to visit other media in museums, galleries schools and places like the Bray moves my creative to new vistas. I am always delighted to view works in fiber, my media of choice, but when I whet the vision with works of other materials my own designs become more individual, more inventive, and more exploratory. It is my hope that you will take a look at what is offered at the Bray and then, perhaps, look for places near to you where you can find stirring sticks for your creative in 2008.


2 Responses to “The Archie Bray Foundation”

  1. 1 Kristin F January 1, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    When I am able to sit beside a garden filled with shards of the not so perfect works or creations which broke in the kiln and see the flowers growing up and around these bits….after a walk through the studios and galleries at the Bray my spirit is filled for sure, but then comes something of a freedom in sketching that I so often do not accomplish without filling the senses and letting the muse begin to fly free of the ordinary in my life. I have found other places that bring that same “inspiration” to the sketch pad but alas those days at the Bray were some of the most productive for me. It was a time when my work as a costumer was more of a studio occupation than my days now in a library, but finding a place to just be and sit and take in the surrounds and then begin to drae, to paint, to stitch on a piece of cloth…..that is the best time for my muse.
    The ceramist Akio Takamori was in residence at the Bray when I moved to Helena and his work pushed my drawing to more emphasis on line…..his fluid, simple shapes with often just black and grey painting hooked into my muse and sent me on a journey of design that I am still exploring today. Whenever I return to my hometown of Seattle I look up exhibits that have his works on display and once again charge the batteries of my creative.
    a look at
    might show you what I am describing.
    Always I am “charged” by a visit to the Textile Museum in Washington DC when I view exhibits and permanent collection pieces there. Quilts of history and created today inspire and give energy to my muse. Visits this week to June’s blog where her creations on canvas have been presented and in her posting to Ragged Cloth last week have shown some wonderful new design forms in her work while she is in Basin. Truly an area that is high in the mountains but looks rather flatter than mountains from the Pacific coast. Somehow in that place June has discovered some “magic” and her images dance from the screen as I view them. There is, to me, a definite influence of place shown in this work of hers.
    Getting out of my studio, getting close to something of the earth or something created by another seems to unlock closed off channels and sends me back to the studio refreshed and ready for exploration.
    I am always challenged by my own work, but sometimes get in a muddle and regular visits to the places I have described does clear out the cobwebs and moves my creative forward.
    In my living and creating space I can never have too much stimulation for the things I clip to the walls, curtains..any surface is a bulletin board for the bits that I see, that stir me and I just must have them up for a while to see. When I am able to have “the real thing” I do add that to my environment.
    Thanks for stirring the pot of thinking, June.

  2. 2 June January 1, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Welcome to 2008.

    Thanks, Kristin, for the blog. I got to thinking about what kind of “looking” helps our own art and decided it was hard to differentiate between what helps our art and what helps our souls. Nevertheless, I thought it was worth considering further.

    The camera, with its limited canvas and peculiar ways of flattening images might not be a piece of art, but it can make interesting materials out of which to make art. Camera images are best used in conjunction with a thorough knowledge of the material being photographed — it’s the best way to do comparisons and settle on what your own intention needs to be.

    The “art” that nowadays seems to set me off are traditional prints. This surprises me because I thought I wasn’t much interested in them. But the medium is fluid, varied, and yet has a kind of clarity, particularly because of the embossing of the edges — I like the subtlety of that well defined edge which nevertheless gives tightness to the whole.

    And the other art that feeds me is the art I can return to over and over. In many ways, the art on the web isn’t useful except when I need an example — of dogs through the ages, for example. But even a replication of a good piece of art, hung lopsided on my bulletin board, can make me more intensely aware of and expanded by the art of someone else’s hand. The same goes for the cracked pot, the tiny commercial bronze, the bit of old textile.

    I think in part I do better with art that is unlike what I do, whether a different media or greatly different work in my own medium, especially if I look and look and look. And that can only be done if I can return to it again and again.

    So there’s a New Year’s blither to start your day. I guess I would ask the rest of you which medium do you go to for a jump-start — your own or another? And what art gets you going — the challenge of your own work or what you see others doing?

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