Watershed’s dual mission is to provide artists with time and space to explore ideas with clay; and to promote public awareness of the ceramic arts. Through residencies, workshops, public events, talks and exhibitions, Watershed supports the process and work of clay artists from around the country and world.

Gifted with rich natural resources, midcoast Maine became home to brick manufacturing businesses in the 19th century when clay was discovered along the banks of local rivers. In the 1970s, an attempt was made to re-establish the industry on the site that is now the Watershed campus in Newcastle, Maine. Although the brick business folded after a year, the land, with its abandoned factory and a bed of local marine clay, became a springboard for a group of artists to launch a grand new vision. In 1986, Margaret Griggs, George Mason, Lynn Duryea, and Chris Gustin collaborated to create a place for clay artists to live and work in community. The old factory’s open layout encouraged the artists to approach their work with new vigor and awareness, planting the seeds for what would become Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts. The residency program soon began attracting artists from far corners of the world, providing a creative environment for engagement and exploration.

One misty morning in early June, the Maine Crafts Association (MCA) had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the new Executive Director of Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, David East. With a long history of involvement at Watershed, David brings more than 20 years of experience as a ceramics artist and educator. He steps into this new position as the organization prepares to launch Salad Days, their annual celebration and fundraiser, on a newly renovated campus spanning 57 rolling acres in Newcastle, Maine.

1: Tell us a bit about you, the organization, and your role in the Maine community (or beyond)? 

It is a sort of homecoming to take this role and move to Maine with my family. Watershed first hired me to work in the kitchen in the 90’s, where I cooked for the first inaugural Salad Days. I came back many times, including three times as a resident. I have worked as an essayist, board advisor, and also organized and produced special programming for Watershed during Covid. I love the idea of creating time & space for artists working in clay in a non-hierarchical, immersive space for community gathering. A senior artist at the height of their career can be working alongside an undergraduate; it’s the same space for all. Education is also an important element, but creating an immersive artist experience is at Watershed’s core. This is an important piece of the organization’s story and something I want to maintain.

2: What are the most important elements to your work as an organization?

There is something distinct that happens in an immersive creative space. Watershed centers something that is often overlooked by putting value on open creative time. Through meeting other people, maybe asking different kinds of questions, it is uniquely important to the culture of ceramics to have open time to consider risks and be present with your process. Time and space to work in clay is important, as well as time to rethink what an institution is and what it is for. It has intrinsic value, and is unusual in a time where most of our opportunities are not autonomous. It is not the same as working in your studio with lots of professional expectations, or in education, or most other spaces. Having a distinct and separate space for open creativity is something very special and unique. Maybe you come to Watershed to learn something specific, maybe not. You could go for walks for two weeks or create a whole new body of work. These are both acceptable paths here.

Program Coordinator Aidan Fraser sits in the new Commons Building

3: Watershed is best known for its residency program and annual fundraiser, Salad Days. Do you offer additional services or programs?

In addition to our residencies and Salad Days, we have a number of educational workshop opportunities open to the general public. Our new facilities will enable us to expand even further. Also, our office building, the Joan Pearson Watkins House, has a small shop with Watershed swag & work from past Salad Days artists as well as a year round gallery space, currently exhibiting ceramic students from Maine College of Art + Design (on view through Friday, July 12, 2024). Typically in winter we offer less, but the newly built Commons Building will give us the capacity to work with more people year-round.

4: How did Watershed become involved with the Maine Crafts Association? 

  • MCA awarded Watershed the Maine Craft Award in 2012, also awarding founder Lynn Duryea with the award that same year. The awards were presented at George Mason’s house during a 25th anniversary event by former MCA Executive Director and now Watershed Interim Admin, Sadie Bliss.
  • Lynn Thompson was likely the first connector. She was Executive Director of Watershed around the same time that she served on MCA’s board of directors, and later became an MCA staff member. Tyler Gulden, also a previous Watershed Executive Director, recently served on the MCA board with a three year term as president.
  • Maine Crafts Association, Watershed, and several other craft organizations were once linked as the Maine Crafts Consortium in the early 2000’s. Through the work of this group it was determined Maine needed more year round retail outlets for Maine craft artists. As a result, the Maine Highlands Guild and the MCA merged and opened the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner.
  • Over the years, MCA and local artists have collaborated on numerous projects and events taking place at Watershed, such as the annual Maine Craft Weekend wood kiln firing and opening run by Tim Christensen, and the Craft Apprentice Program exhibition and alumni gathering at the Joan Pearson Watkins House. Both events take place annually on the first weekend of October.
  • In October 2023 Sadie Bliss regrouped the Maine Crafts Consortium in response to the majority of the organizations experiencing a leadership transition within the last two years. New and previous directors from Watershed, Maine Crafts Association, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Monson Arts, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and Maine Fiberarts gathered for a day of introductions, reconnecting and networking in support of the new directors.

**Thank you Sadie Bliss for providing this historic timeline!**

5: How would you like to see Watershed develop over the next 10-30 years? 

Watershed has always been a local organization, but I think the connection with the local community hasn’t always been clear. Former director Fran Rudoff did amazing work in this area, the K-12 program she developed has been an incredible byproduct of Watershed in the community. Because there is an expansion happening, there is now an opportunity to work collaboratively, perhaps developing a new programming for veterans, for example. There is a lot of desire and intent to address the Wabanakai community and connect more artists in Maine with Watershed. It’s important for an organization like Watershed to be aware of the local network and make sure we are supporting other craft people and organizations by not creating redundancy. We are conscious of maintaining as well as developing new relationships, such as our long connection with Straw’s Farm, and earlier work with the Dandelion Spring Farm through the Farm & Fire Fellowship.

6: Are there any key organizational mentors or influencers who inspire you? 

Watershed’s Interim Administrator, Sadie Bliss, has been amazing to work with. Fran Rudoff was Executive Director for ten years, and there are many people that preceded: Holly Walker was the Director that originally hired me, then Lynn Thompson (of Thompson Hall, now replaced by the new Commons Building) was my boss early on. I have been fortunate to know many of those who came to do this work.

Fran Rudoff sits in a very unique place because of the herculean work that she did through a difficult time (Covid) while also maintaining and overseeing a huge renovation project. Fran is a leader who sees everything, and always had a vision for what Watershed could be.

I’m lucky to have had a long relationship with Stu Kestenbaum, who has been a mentor in my life. He observes what is happening in a space and responds to it with a certain kind of presence. Stu did an excellent job of positioning Haystack in a way to innovate while also supporting the community. His successor, Paul Sacaridiz, saw Haystack through some really important changes. It was Paul that directly addressed DEI through actionable items and more. The pandemic was radical and continues to be hard, but it also caused large scale foundational responses. How organizations have weathered the storm while looking towards long standing issues is inspiring.

Salad Days, 2023

7: What is upcoming for Watershed, how can people learn more and get involved? 

Watershed’s 29th annual Salad Days is a celebration and fundraiser that provides an opportunity to learn about ceramic art, artists working in clay, and our programs that support their growth. Each year, a resident artist comes to Watershed and hand makes 500 plates. This year’s featured artist is Jeremiah Ibarra.

Salad Days is fantastic, joyous summer picnic fun! Eat some wonderful food and leave with handmade pottery. There is music and scheduled tours of the studios and grounds where you can learn about the new buildings. There are only so many plates, so reserve tickets in advance! It’s a great party that celebrates community and Watershed.

The Salad Days VIP Event is a more intimate gathering with Watershed’s founders and many who have had a long standing relationship with Watershed. The VIP Pass pass gives you insider access to celebratory events on Friday July 12 and all the festivities on July 13. It’s a wonderful way to be involved and get the first pick of plates! 

SALAD DAYS

Saturday, July 13th
11:00 am to 2:00 pm
19 Brick Hill Road, Newcastle, ME (map)

>> BUY TICKETS

VIP EVENT
Friday, July 12
3:00 pm to 7:00 pm

>> VIP PASS

Other news & ways to get involved with Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts:

Development of Founders Hill is a landscaping project coming this summer: A wonderful expression of native, maintained meadows thanks to the long held values of Peggy Griggs, key founding member who owned the land that made Watershed happen. A big part of her gift is maintaining the environment that Watershed fits within, and we hope the new landscaping reflects that.

Lastly, anyone can come to the main office building and the gallery has public business hours. Visit our gallery and check out the new swag!

Learn more at Watershedceramics.org

The Maine Crafts Association was founded in 1983 to support and connect Maine’s craft artists. This 501c(3) non-profit organization provides educational programs, public events, mentorship, promotions and an inclusive community to connect emerging, mid-career and established craftspeople.

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Questions? Contact us at info@mainecrafts.org / (207)205-0791