Asheville’s Clay Journey is a True Odyssey

Odyssey began four decades ago by the banks of the Swannanoa and continues to thrive and expand in Asheville’s iconic River Arts District adjacent the French Broad River.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Regional clay artists owe a debt of gratitude to Brian and Gail McCarthy, whose early vision for an entity supporting clay artists helped encourage the genre in Asheville. The couple originally started a clay-blending business in the early 1980s, in a building on the Swannanoa River. Next, they purchased a building on Clingman Avenue and moved the operation — Highwater Clays — to this location, before relocating it to its current site on Riverside Drive, where it continues operating as a source for wet clay and raw materials, equipment, glazes, tools, and more.

In 1993, as an educational division of Highwater Clays, they also started Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts in the River Arts District; the business includes a school as well as studio rentals for potters. 

Anne Jerman is chair of the clay collective’s Oversight Committee and also an exhibiting artist.
Photo by Colby Rabon

“In 2004, we established a community clay studio, as we continued to operate Odyssey Center’s school,” recounts Brian. “Eleven years ago, Gabriel Kline became owner of the school and changed the name to Odyssey Clayworks.” Adds Brian, “Gail and I continue to own and run Odyssey Studios.” 

Laura Peery’s sculptures are renowned for her unusual work in a tricky genre: porcelain. Right: A wall of vessels shows the range of functional and semi-functional work.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Around 2005, Odyssey’s gallery was established in the Clingman building. It’s organized as a co-op, so artists are responsible for selling all members’ works. “Each member has an equal voice in how we manage our co-op and our business,” explains Anne Jerman, an Odyssey artist and chairperson of the organization’s Oversight Committee.

This committee, she explains, “has many important responsibilities, from orienting new members to working in the gallery to coordinating with Odyssey’s other committees [Marketing, Display, Hospitality, etc.].”

Photo by Colby Rabon

 All of the artists are required to work 2-3 shifts per month in the gallery, in addition to serving on an Odyssey committee for a one-year minimum. Because of the breadth of the committees’ work, says Jerman, “we decided to refer to ourselves as an artist collective. We help each other out, so we are both a co-op and a collective.” (The venue was recently re-branded to reflect this shift.)

Odyssey’s gallery space is approximately 700 square feet and can showcase works by 24 artists; the back studio space is nearly 5,000 square feet, accommodating approximately 50 artists. The studios have a common area for the artists to work where there are hand-building tables, wheels, a slab roller, an extruder, and a spray booth. Artists can also rent kilns in which to fire their vessels.

Left: Large vessel by Michael Parry, torso by Kathleen Lizzul. Right: Striking figurative work by Anna Koloseike.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Elaine Lacy, a longtime member, says the other potters feel like family. “I just love Odyssey and its history,” she says. Lacy — whose ceramics are branded as “Under the Oaks” and include tiles, sculpture, and tableware, all with whimsical nature themes — began renting studio space in Odyssey more than 10 years ago. She adds that she has great respect for the clay community’s talents, professionalism, and creativity, and delights in bringing customers joy through ceramic art — an extension of her own passion for the process. “Creating a piece of art from soft clay acts as a form of meditation,” she says.

To be accepted as an Odyssey member, applicants submit examples of their work that are reviewed by a jury comprised of current members. The jury’s selections are then sent to the full membership for a final decision.

Photo by Colby Rabon

Odyssey’s members create a wide range of clay art including mugs, bowls, plates, platters, pitchers, and decorative works such as wall tiles, small sculptures, and lamps. Well-known names include porcelain artist Laura Peery, whose teapots, shoes, and other sculptural works resemble soft, folded fabric; classically trained Ukrainian potter Leonid Siveriver; and Arts & Crafts tilemaker turned matte-minimalist potter Diana Gillispie. Rhona Polonsky and Rosa Friedrichs use the ancient sgraffito method to create their etched black-and-white vessels, and Jerman makes functional and decorative pieces with raku and pit-firing methods.

 “We have more work with more artists in one place than a person will see anywhere else,” Jerman says. “There is something for everyone here.”

Odyssey Gallery of Ceramic Arts, an Artist Collective, 238 Clingman Ave. in Asheville’s River Arts District, Hours are 11am-5pm, closed Tuesdays. Enjoy live demos and refreshments at Odyssey during monthly “Second Saturdays” in the RAD, 11-am-5pm. For more information, call 828-505-8707 or e-mail 

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1 Comment

  1. says: Charlie Enscore

    Will be visiting Asheville in April, oiling for to a field trip to the collective. I would also be interested in week-long or weekend workshops in the area. I live in Atlanta. Tnx

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