March 11, 2022 | LIFE | By Rhetta Power | Photo by Sienna Busby
The first time that I went to Clay Club was at the end of my sophomore year. A friend had invited me, and although I didn’t know what it was, it sounded incredibly intriguing. I remember walking through the ornately carved wooden doors of the Bemis Clay Center and immediately being greeted by a bearded man.
His mask covered his smile, but his wave and cheerful welcome let me know it was there. The man asked my name, and from that moment on, seemed to never forget it.
If you’ve ever been to Clay Club or even walked into the Bemis Clay Center, you’ve probably met this sunny man (and he probably remembers your name). His name is Jeremiah Houck (How-ick), and he is the Assistant Director of the Bemis School of Art.
Houck’s favorite part of the job is being able to help people safely access hands-on studio art. According to Houck, there are three kinds of students that he interacts most with.
The first type is the “24/7 artist,” — this student views art as their calling and a fundamental part of their life. The second type is the student who views art time as their “fun thing,” a way to relax, socialize with peers, and find balance with the other elements of their life. The third type of student is the one who’s always viewed art as a school subject, as something that they’re “not good at,” and can ignore forever.
Although Houck loves interacting with all students, he finds the experience of engaging this final type of student with the arts at CC the most rewarding.
Engaging with people is, from an outsider’s perspective, something that Houck is talented in. Through the course of our conversation, I would estimate that he cheerfully greeted around 20 people, all by name. You can see people light up when they start talking to him. He talks so easily and earnestly that it seems difficult to not become immediately engaged in conversation with him.
When I asked Houck about his friendly approach to life, and what he thought was the source of this seemingly infinite sociability, he simply responded “I love it here.”
Houck’s love for CC runs deeper than his job. He actually got his master’s degree from CC in the early 2010s and attended four years of summer classes. The block plan makes sense to him, it’s how he “likes to learn,” and in his opinion, it works especially well with studio arts. More than anything, he loves how the block plan allows students to have a “multi-faceted” relationship with the arts.
One popular relationship that many CC students, including myself, have with the Arts School is through Clay Club. The club was started a few years ago by a recent graduate of CC currently working as a paraprof at the library, Inez Olivas ’21. Olivas started the club after experiencing a block break clay class and wanting to “do more clay.”
Clay Club initially began with just Olivas and some close friends, but gradually expanded as they invited more people. The club worked with community organizations and put on wheel-throwing demonstrations on the quad. Then, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club turned inwards. It opened up to all CC students and has been flourishing since.
During Blocks 1-4 of this year, the club had 1,000 individual visits from students. Some are optimistic that the number of visits will surpass the size of the student body.
The ever-growing popularity of Clay Club, and arts in general, has prompted Houck’s goal for the Bemis Arts School to become what the athletic building is. In other words, to be able to offer classes and services that meet students’ varying needs and create spaces for community building around the arts.
There are three main sectors of arts at CC: the art department, the Fine Arts Center (which includes the Bemis School of Art), and arts and crafts.
Houck first came to Bemis as a clay teacher in 1996, a couple of years after graduating college, where he worked as a ceramicist teacher’s assistant. Around five-and-a-half years ago, Houck became the assistant director. He described his job as helping teachers at the Bemis School of Art “do what they do.”
The Bemis School of Art currently has four administrative staff and around 20 teachers. It is one of the three branches of the Fine Arts Center (the others being the museum and the theater). Around five years ago, the FAC merged with CC. Houck credited this merge with the advent of a new age for the school of art, as it shifted the school’s funding away from relying on private donors.
The increased financial stability allowed the school to invest in better equipment, which greatly improved the process of making and storing art at the FAC. Houck also credited Idris Goodwin, the new director of the FAC, with the direction that the school is taking towards making art classes more accessible. This will be achieved by making art classes more affordable and targeting zip codes in the Springs that the school has historically ignored.
Another element that dramatically shifted the path of the Arts School has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Houck talked about how, during the pandemic, the school went from 40 teachers to 20. This was largely from structural shifts to online learning, which was understandably much less effective. The school has started to hire “new and wonderful teachers” and is currently offering around 40 classes to the public.
If you have an interest in taking part in the arts at CC, specifically through the Bemis School of Art, take a look at what’s offered. Jeremiah said that over the course of this year, they haven’t turned away a single CC student that has come in saying “I want to do something right now.” And if you’re interested in Clay Club, check out the small concrete building behind Packard with the carved wooden doors. If you go in, there’s a good chance you’ll meet this smiling bearded man.