Montana Clay in our Capitol’s Rotunda

Students from Jefferson Elementary surround Montana Clay demos
Students from Jefferson Elementary surround Montana Clay demos

Six weeks ago I organized a Montana Clay take over of our State Capitol Rotunda. If you are not familiar with Montana Clay, we are ceramic artists from all over the state of Montana dedicated to promoting our craft, education and sharing of clay resources. You can see this great list of artists and links to our websites at

Montana Clay was really excited to share with our legislators and our state that Clay is important and vital. Historically, economically and for our future. The state of Montana is a pretty special place for the field of ceramics. When you start to dig into the mentors, teachers, and pioneers in the field that once called Montana home, you can not help but feel proud to call yourself a potter or sculptor from Montana.

Montana Clay’s event had a variety of things happening. The highlights for me were building relationships with other ceramic artists-especially those people who came from out of town. We had ceramic artists who came from Great Falls, Missoula, Kalispell, and Butte! The event created a gathering space where artists and people outside of the field connected, brainstormed and shared plans and ideas. The final highlight was when 80 Kindergarteners through 2nd graders came from Jefferson Elementary and surrounded our displays. Jeff Kuratnick had them chanting various ceramic words and the kid’s energy saturated the rotunda. It was incredible!

Does this ever happen to you? When you step back and look at what is happening around you, your heart tugs and you think, “Wow, this is so great! My heart is aching with joy!” These moments can happen anywhere at anytime. And I love it when this happens.

Phil Mahn was throwing two huge pots. Heidi West was carving cups she brought from Missoula. I had bisque pots I was decorating with a slip trailer. Carla Potter, Sherry Wells and so many other ceramic artists were demoing and sharing their talents. We had information from ceramic organizations around the state as well as ceramic art on display. So much was happening in this tight, plastic covered, beautiful spot in the middle of our state’s Rotunda.

Organizing the event at the Rotunda was a first for me. So of course I over-analyze and strategize how it can be better next time. Lists still need to be put together. A budget outlined and a report given to the group. When it all came together a number of people showed up and made it happen!

A big THANK YOU to the early morning, haul it all, all day crew: Matt Wilson, Philip Mahn, Heidi West, Jeff Kuratnick, and Carla Potter! And so many others chipped in and supported in many other ways including: Eric Van Eimeren, Sherry Wells, Daniela Abel, Lisa Ernst, Lauren Smith, Chip Clawson, Adam Field, Brad Robinson, Julia Galloway, Rachel Hicks and Jen Hensley. Free Ceramics provided materials, lunch and logistics. And thanks to the Archie Bray Foundation for lending wheels and donating clay!

We hired the amazing Eliza Wiley to take photographs of this inaugural event. I am sharing only a handful of the many great photos that Montana Clay will use and that are for the participating artists as well! You can find out more about Eliza at Photographer Thom Bridge from our local paper the Independent Record, joined us in the morning and shared some great photos as well. To see those images visit:

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more writings! It has been a busy six weeks! love, Emily

Students lightly touch the large pots Phil Mahn is making
Philip Mahn
Lauren Smith, Philip Mahn, Heidi West
Jeff Kuratnick engaging the kids!
Heidi West demoing
Carla Potter demonstrating
Lauren Smith
Montana Clay in the Rotunda


Emily Free Wilson


Daniela Abel and Jeff Kuratnick at the wheels!


Lisa Ernst


Emily Free Wilson decorating
Montana Clay group shot LtoR, Back: Matt Wilson, Phil Mahn, Lauren Smith, Carla Potter, Lisa Ernst, Chris Dufala, Daniela Abel, Sherry Wells, Jeff Kuratnick, Front: Adam Field, Emily Free Wilson, Heidi West and son, Donnie Keeton, Noah Riedel, Steve Lee, Eric Van Eimeren