There’s a famous Buddhist parable about a lone lotus sprouting up in the murky, muddy waters of a swamp. At first, the lotus laments the trials and tribulations of being stuck in a stinky mess of mud, but then realizes it can absorb the rich nutrients from the mud to grow and bloom. Finally, it pushes upward through the swamp water, unfurling its beautiful petals as it blossoms in the golden sun.
Making something beautiful from the mud is no metaphor for local ceramicist Jules Fallman: Taking a lump of clay and transforming it into something lovely and useful is what she does. This week she took it a step further, opening the doors of the new Wheel House Co-op in Ilium Valley near Telluride.
“Wheel House Co-op is a learning space that will offer classes as well as monthly memberships,” Fallman said. “I also plan on starting up date night classes as well as groups of friends who want a night of playing on the wheel. I have four wheels for classes and workshops as well as a truly well-loved 20-year-old kiln.”
Fallman’s love of ceramics was itself born out of a challenging period of upheaval and transition in her life, giving her an artistic outlet with which to center not just the clay, but herself.
“I was searching for a way to sit with myself and move through a really big transition,” she reflected. “My life looks a lot different than it did then and through all of the changes, there has always been the invitation to sit down at my wheel. Deep breath. Loud exhale. Find center. It’s my favorite place to be.”
Wheel House extends that invitation to its members, who will pay a monthly fee for usage of the space and receive a peaceful space in which they can create, learn and grow as artists and as a community of ceramicists. The space, located in the Ghost Pocket Kitchen building in the Ilium industrial park, features a mountains-to-sea mural by local artist Emma Yardley, warm ochre walls, and a recently arrived shipment of a thousand pounds of clay. Bringing her dream to life has been anything but simple, though Fallman cited the outpouring of support from the business and ceramics communities as critical to making the dream a reality.
“I’m definitely not a ‘measure twice, cut once’ kinda gal, which has made building out a studio for myself and for the community quite a hilarious journey,” she remarked. “I’m a ‘do everything all at once, spill a bunch of paint, break a few things, make a massive mess’ kinda gal. I've had so much support and stoke. This community really knows how to support its own.”
Nonetheless, with a lot of hard work and a little help from her friends, to quote the Beatles, the ceramics studio is up and running and ready to host members.
One co-op member, Rachel Bellamy, is looking forward to the creative space as a safe haven from the stresses of a potentially challenging winter with the continuing pandemic.
“I hope that it creates a good home for a bunch of people with a lot of ideas, especially with Ah Haa moving this year,” Bellamy said, referring to the temporary period during which the Ah Haa School for the Arts will be without a physical ceramics studio as it awaits the completion of its new building.
“It’s really nice to have a space we can work in this year. Especially with winter coming on in such a weird year, it’s like therapy for a lot of us, and I think this will be really good for a lot of people,” she said. “The space feels really good.”
Fallman, for her part, is excited to cultivate and support the local ceramics community in the area and to provide a welcoming physical space for that to happen.
“I hope that the Wheel House Co-op brings some of that scrappy, gritty, local feel we all love and are trying to hold on to,” she said. “If we want local artists to be able to stay here and create here, we need to provide spaces for that to happen.”