Tuesday, September 18, 2012


During most of the day and a half it took us to drive home, the surrounding hills and valleys were clouded with smoke.  For the most part, distant mountains were not visible at all and the sun played hide and seek. Although we never did see actual flames, we knew the extent of the burning: 30 separate fires in Montana, 33 in Idaho, 16 in Washington. One might have thought the entire west was on fire.
It was bound to happen, of course. With much of the country experiencing a long, hot, dry summer, thousands, if not millions, of acres of dead and dying trees throughout the west due to insect infestations, and years of well-meaning fire suppression, it is all a huge tinder box just ripe for burning.
Fire has been a part of earth's natural systems for eons. While we may see nothing but devastation, many ecosystems, such as prairie and conifer forests, have evolved with fire as a natural and necessary contributor to the vitality and renewal of habitats. Many plants have developed traits that allow them to regenerate after a fire. Some store energy in their roots for recovery and regrowth afterward; some are killed outright, but over years have accumulated long-lived seeds in the soil which are stimulated by fire to germinate and grow.
In some cases, it is the heat of the fire that breaks down or cracks an impervious seed coat, allowing the seed to absorb water and grow when the rains start. Smoke or charred wood sometimes produces a biochemical effect on a seed that facilitates germination. Some evergreen cones remain tightly closed on the tree for years (sometimes for the life of the tree) unless they are stimulated by the heat of a fire to slowly open and release their seeds. Spectacular spring displays of wildflowers and verdant carpets of seedling trees often appear the year following a fire.
Just as numerous wildfires move through the west, we are each, in our own way and time, inundated with troubles. Loss of a job or loved one, money or relationship/family problems, separation, divorce, illness, disability, aging, and looming death take their toll. The damage can be staggering; some of us will ultimately survive longer than others, but in the end we all will succumb. Until then, most of us will survive and somehow muddle through. We were created with the ability to adapt and are more resilient than we may think, but during difficult times, especially, we need to be there for each other. It is what we are meant to do.
Remember the burned fields and forests - after the worst has passed, new growth does appear and life goes on. Much will have changed and some places may never look the same within our lifetimes, but the land has been swept clean and nourished. Time passes, and with it the old ways of seeing and being. Damage has been done, but that does not mean that there won't be a new beginning - and new beginnings can be stunning.
For misery does not come from the earth,
nor does trouble sprout from the ground,
but human beings are born to trouble
just as sparks fly upward.
"As for me, I would seek God,
and to God I would commit my cause.
He does great things and unsearchable,
marvelous things without number."
Job 5:6-9

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ArtTrail #8 - Archie Bray

“Your life is a piece of clay,
don't let anyone else mold it for you.”
There are always those who see things a bit differently; those who envision what the rest of us, perhaps, cannot see.
They take in all that is right before them and yet they are able to shift their focus to what lies beyond.
They clearly see the path - and the effort required - which leads from here to there.
Such a person was Archie Bray...

Born in Helena, Montana, in 1886, Archie Bray had virtually no say in what his life-long career would be. As a young man, he wanted to be a physician, but his father had other ideas and insisted that he be trained as a ceramic engineer. There are stories of hot and heavy arguments, but in the end that is what he did.

Gold had been discovered in Helena in 1864 and it soon became a boom town. Situated on the eastern edge of the Rockies, the prospering town was originally constructed of wood and canvas. For some, wealth needs to be flaunted and so brick and stone homes and business blocks became symbols of status. But among the many wooden structures frequent fires soon prompted the town fathers to require that only masonry buildings be built downtown. All this construction created a market for locally made brick.

Archie's father, Charles H. Bray, was born in England in 1864, the same year that gold was discovered at Helena. He served an apprenticeship with a British brickmaker before coming to the United States in 1880; in 1884, Charles, by then a skilled brickmaker, was hired to work at the Kessler Brick and Tile in Helena. As the business grew, Charles became the plant manager and progressively enlarged and updated the plant.

It's estimated that at least 90 percent of the brick of which Helena's buildings were constructed was made at these Brick Yards. Eventually merging with another brickmaking company, the plant became Western Clay Manufacturing Company.

Employing upwards of 50 workers, Western Clay produced fire, sidewalk, ornamental, paving, and pressed brick; culvert and sewer pipe; lawn vases and flower pots; clay tile; flue linings; and even hollow tile for grain silos. By 1918, production ran as high as ten million bricks and tiles annually.

In 1928, Charles Bray became the sole owner of Western Clay. Groomed to lead the enterprise in a new century, Archie had learned brickmaking at his father's knee. He combined this practical knowledge with the technical training he received in the Ohio State University ceramics engineering program, reputed to be the finest in the nation.

Upon his father's death in 1931, Archie became general manager and president of Western Clay. He continued his father's innovations, and under his direction Western Clay continued as Montana's preeminent brick producer, even at the peak of the Great Depression.

But after World War II, with the rise of new building technologies and materials, the demand for brick and other ceramic products begin to shrink.
 And Archie, a long-time patron of the arts,
had become obsessed with a vision.

Next door to the Western Clay plant, Archie would found a center for the ceramic arts with the support of friends who shared his vision and would help to carry it farther.
He finalized his plans for "the first branch of the Archie Bray Foundation," which he called Pottery, Inc.

In a letter to a friend, he described his vision for the Foundation:

"Somehow let's keep it all on the plane we dreamed — let's be practical too, let's keep it all in good fun, to roll along the whole idea built around —'A place to work for all who are seriously interested in any of the Ceramic Arts.'
To be high standards—to keep it nice—that it may always be a delight to turn to — to walk inside the Pottery and leave outside somewhere— outside the big gate —uptown —anywhere —the cares of every day.
Each time we walk in the door to walk into a place of art—of simple things not problems, good people, lovely people all tuned to the right spirit.
That somewhere thru it all will permeate a beautiful spirit... carrying on and forwarding the intentions, the aims and the life of the Foundation.
Can we do it?
What a joy it is to do it."

Today, the Archie Bray Foundation provides free access to some of the finest ceramic art found anywhere in the nation.

Located on the site of that 100+year old brick plant, the Bray grounds contain hundreds of ceramic artifacts and site-specific sculptures created by former resident artists.


You are welcome to explore the grounds anytime during daylight hours - there is no charge.

There is a rotating exhibition space and the Sales Gallery, where you can buy work by current and past resident artists.

During the summer the Bray's 3,500-square foot Warehouse Gallery, a converted brickyard building, features an exhibition of work by current resident artists.  

Solo exhibitions by departing resident artists take place at different times during the year, and additional Bray exhibitions are held at galleries throughout the country.


The permanent ceramics collection contains more than 1,000 pieces and continues to grow.

At age 65, Archie Bray finally did what he wanted...
"No man ever wetted clay and then left it,
as if there would be brick by chance and fortune."
~ Plutarch

For more information of the Archie Bray Foundation: