The Virginia Clay Festival, canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set for Sept. 18-19 at William Monroe High School. Potters, sculptors and jewelry designers are painting, glazing, carving and firing up their kilns in preparation for this annual celebration of all things clay—and admission and parking are free for all.
“The Virginia Clay Festival was created to attract outside guests and to bring attention to our two pottery shops,” said Economic Development and Tourism Director Alan Yost. “Our efforts continue to be successful each year with approximately 80% of the roughly 3,000 guests traveling from outside the county and nearly half coming from beyond the region.”
The first Virginia Clay Festival was held at the high school in 2015 and was a collaborative effort between the tourism office, Noon Whistle Pottery, Blue Ridge Pottery and the Art Guild of Greene County—with support from the high school art department as well.
“The local tourism folks got together with us and asked if we had any ideas for an event for the area,” said Holly Horan, potter and co-owner of Noon Whistle Pottery in downtown Stanardsville. “There are other clay festivals around and since we love pottery—John’s a sculptor and I’m a potter—and we know all these artists, we thought we’d have a clay festival to make it unique. It’s pottery, sculpture and jewelry—just anything that’s made of clay; and it’s only Virginia artists.”
The festival is supported by the Art Guild of Greene, who provide volunteers to staff the art booths and host out-of-town artists in their homes for the event each year.
“John and I used to do art shows for a living, so we tried to incorporate everything that we loved about art shows, trying to make it the most fun art show—for the artists and for the people that attend—that we could,” Horan said. “It’s really fun for the hosts, too, because they develop relationships with different people. We even have volunteers or relatives from out of town and friends come, and they consider it a reunion every year to come to the clay festival and help out—and get their pottery fix in, too.”
According to Horan, Alun Ward of Blue Ridge Pottery has contributed every year by providing raku demonstrations—a process of quickly firing a kiln to the exact temperature where the glaze or surface finish begins to melt, and then cooling it quickly. Although he will not be holding a demonstration at this year’s event, Ward has been hard at work throwing pots for his personal artist booth at the fair. Blue Ridge Pottery also usually gives handmade thank-you gifts to all the volunteers at the event.
The William Monroe High School art department has also traditionally been involved, offering a kids’ clay play area and face painting during the event. Although they are not offering those events this year due to COVID protocols, all students are encouraged to attend and learn more about the artistry of ceramics and to enjoy the live music and food.
“There’s always three demonstrations going on and everybody takes turns showing unique techniques,” Horan said. “It just makes you appreciate pottery more if you can see how it’s made, and it also pulls a lot of people that are hobby artists just to learn the techniques as well.”
The music will mostly be traditional Irish and folk tunes, and a schedule of bands is available on the event flier on the website.
“John and I are musicians ourselves and we kind of are into the local music scene too,” said Horan, who is part of the An Lár band, which recently played at the annual Art Guild of Greene summer picnic. Holly plays accordion and John plays guitar and mandolin.
The event schedule is available at virginiaclayfestival.com and features three demonstration tents running from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, live music and a smorgasbord of food trucks outside the high school. All artists’ booths will be located in the high school cafeteria, which has been recently remodeled. Note that masks are required on school premises and must be worn to enter the building.