Tucked in an idyllic valley just off Route 1, Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts offers a contemplative oasis for artists working in clay. During a usual summer and fall, ceramists from Maine and across the US spend short-term sessions on campus sharing meals, living alongside one another, and enjoying 24-hour studio access. This year, however, the campus has been quiet due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Watershed was one of the first artist residency centers in the country to make the difficult but necessary decision to suspend on-site programming for 2020. “The community and connections that artists find at Watershed stay with them long after they leave campus,” shares Executive Director Fran Rudoff. “But it became clear to us in the spring that artists would not be able to safely participate in this meaningful aspect of our programs this year.”
Faced with considerable uncertainty, Rudoff and Watershed’s Board of Trustees also saw opportunity. The empty campus created an opening to fast-track a much-needed project: building a new studio on campus. The rustic nature of the original studio––which was once a chicken barn––adds charm to the campus, but the outdated structure left artists at the mercy of the elements and constrained programming to warmer months.
Over the past several years, Watershed’s leadership crafted a master plan to enhance the campus facilities for artists and create new venues for public programs. The Center’s capital campaign, Watershed NOW, is supporting these transformative upgrades. Early campaign gifts enabled the 2018 purchase and renovation of the Joan Pearson Watkins House, which is home to Watershed’s new Barkan Gallery, year-round administrative offices, and a small shop.
With a lead gift from The Windgate Charitable Foundation, Watershed is now poised to transform the on-site artist experience. Windgate’s $2 million contribution includes a $1.5 million challenge grant. Watershed is nearing the match for the gift and construction of the Windgate Studio began in September. Winthrop based contractor JF Scott Construction is managing the project following plans by architect Jane Gleason of Greywork, LLC of Massachusetts. The new building is slated to open next spring.
“We planned to break ground on a new studio in fall 2021,” explains Rudoff. “The pandemic moved up our timeline. We’re making the most of the lull in regular programming to launch construction.”
The 7,500 square foot studio design offers ceramists state-of-the-art space to work and connect with other makers year-round. The energy-efficient single level layout provides seamless access to raw materials, kilns, a glaze room, plaster room, and spray booth.
“The Windgate Studio will enable Watershed to develop more programs that serve our local and regional creative communities,” Rudoff says. “Because our program season will extend beyond summer, we can nurture additional partnerships with neighboring organizations, offer more opportunities for makers in the area, and expand the reach of our educational offerings.”
“I am thrilled that Watershed’s new studio will be a great benefit to artists, both locally and throughout Maine,” said Nobleboro artist and Watershed co-founder George Mason. “Having a well-equipped facility with year round access to studio space and kilns is a long held dream that is coming true!”
As the foundation is poured for the Windgate Studio, local artists are still making the most of a campus in transition. In the midst of construction preparations, studio potter Tim Christensen fired the Center’s wood and gas kilns with a group of Maine ceramists. “I can’t wait until we are here throughout the year, doing what we love best. Watershed is an essential asset to the entire clay community, and I’m thrilled with this new studio plan,” he shared.
Watershed NOW will continue to support additional campus upgrades once the studio is completed. The Center’s future plans include fully accessible dining and kitchen facilities for year-round use, along with housing for residential staff.
To learn more about the Windgate Studio and the other projects supported by Watershed NOW, visit watershedceramics.org