HELENA — Montana has long inspired artists, from woodworkers and painters to writers. But the Treasure State's status, and Helena's specifically, as a world-renowned destination for clay and ceramics may be better known outside the state than to those right here at home
The Archie Bray Foundation, or simply the Bray, is located just west of Helena, past Spring Meadow Lake State Park.
"Oh my gosh. I think this is one of the kind of untold stories here in Montana, " says Executive Director Rebecca Harvy.
Walking the paths at the Bray can feel like walking through Helena's history. The grounds are filled with relics from the property's past as a brick manufacturing facility.
The brick factory opened in the 1880s. Many of the bricks that remain on the property are stamped with the city and the company's name, Western Clay Manufacturing.
Areas like the beehive kilns have been preserved and the public can see the inside of one of the kilns.
But today, the Bray is more focused on the future of ceramics than the past.
Harvey says the facility has become "mythic" in the ceramic world and has drawn some of the most respected and visionary clay artists from across the globe since its founding in 1951.
Artist Archie Bray started the foundation at the old brickworks as the first art residency program in the United States dedicated solely to ceramics.
One of its first resident artists was legendary sculptor Rudy Autio, whose most recognizable work here in Montana is the bronze grizzly statue on the University of Montana oval.
Just a year after its founding, world-famous sculptors Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada would visit, cementing the Bray's growing reputation.
To date, the Bray has hosted more than 750 artists from all around the world. Current residents hail from places like Korea, Rome, Poland, and New York.
Janina Myronowa is one of Bray's long-term resident artists. Long-term residencies last two years.
Myronowa is Ukranian, lives in Poland, and has known about the Bray for a decade.
I like to show [the] relationship between people and animals," Myronowa says, " I like to show this emotion. I also like, to catch some specific things from the place I am visiting. So I am sure there will be some, some Montana influences on this piece, maybe on the surface."
Part of what draws artists to the Bray is discovery, experimentation and collaboration with other resident artists.
Kate Rusek is one of the summer resident artists. She is from New York.
"The experts on the grounds, from the clay business to the office staff to the other residents have been just an invaluable resource," Rusek explained
Her pieces mix a variety of materials and techniques, including porcelain, slipcasting, and integrating papers and fabrics into her pieces.
Rusek's pieces are emblematic of the experimentation artists at the Bray are encouraged to pursue.
"So having that confluence of all of this at my fingertips has just been a huge, huge gift," she says
It is artists like Rusek and Myronowa that show how the Bray is focusing on the future, while also embracing its past, not just as a brick and tile manufacturing facility, but as a home for the arts.
"Its really kind of a beautiful, odd random sculpture garden just everywhere you look you see something new."
The grounds of the Bray are open during daylight hours. Gallery and artist studio hours vary.
The Bray also offers a variety of educational opportunities. For more information visit archiebray.org.