The building itself is almost 100 years old and was completed in 1926, all solid brick and steel. Take note to the incredible height of our ceilings. The Historic Seaboard Freight Depot is located along the north side of the Pinellas Trail. It was built as an exemplar of masonry vernacular railroad architecture and is the only remaining example in this area. Until it was decommissioned in 1967, it was the largest employer in South St. Petersburg. Goods came into this station from all over the country to be sold by stores downtown. Some traces of the old merchandise bays remain.
Although many believe it was a passenger station, this building was the heartbeat of St. Petersburg, where items traveled to the mainstay retail facilities of the city. You will see the names of those stores written in grease pencil along the walls as you tour through the historic building. Some are easy to translate; others are a little bit more difficult. The building itself is very interesting, and we are very careful not to hide or camouflage any of the original writing in keeping with the historic nature of the facility. Webb City, Armour, and Standard Furniture and Supply are only a few of the names still visible on our walls which we’ll see later in the tour.
After 1967, the building fell into disrepair. Used as a warehouse by various tenants with little to invest in the building, it was in a sad state when purchased by Seaboard Partners in 2000. Under the name St. Pete Clay Company, the building was refurbished. Lovely windows were added where the metal roll-down doors had been, slabs poured to replace a rotting wood floor, and partitions added to divide wide open spaces into ceramic studios. Over the next decade, the entire building was eventually reclaimed and divided into studios, galleries, classrooms, community, and firing spaces. Fast forward, and we are now an internationally known pottery center with visitors and members from around the world. We have graduated over 80 Artists in Residence and have one of the best kiln complexes on the Eastern seaboard.
Back in 2009, after the initial remodel, the ceramic education department from the Morean Arts Center moved into the building. The new education programming fit in so well that by 2012 the Morean had taken over St. Pete Clay entirely and created the Morean Center for Clay. Already a favorite destination for historically relevant ceramic artists, the new program quickly developed a reputation as an up and coming ceramic institute.
There are always rotating exhibitions showcasing something new and engaging to experience.
As we round this first corner, you’ll see the original Purser’s Office, the green panel that you see here was originally a fold up window and the railroad tracks used to run along the entire south side of the building. Just about everything that arrived into St. Pete came through this building in its heyday.
The large space you are in now is a shared member studio. This gives guests a great feel for an artists space, each member has their own shelving and retail space for their wares. You can see the real diversity of the work. We have private studios along both sides of the building with additional display shelving with work for sale, we’d love to have you buy some for yourself or as a gift!
As mentioned earlier, the Morean Center for Clay boasts an artist in residency program, and these are their studios. Hosting studio space for 5-6 young people from around the country to come and work in the studio and experience the variety of kilns that we have here. It gives them the chance to explore the medium and see where they want to concentrate on now, or where they want to end up in their focuses. These young artists come from around the country, most just recently graduated from college or earned their post-graduate degrees in ceramics, and some are just starting their own careers as ceramicists. These emerging artists keep the Center for Clay constantly reinvigorated every year with each new class of residents. With the addition of 4 to 6 new artists each year, its amazing to see just how much it changes the energy, a greater sense of community and spreading of ideas and knowledge of the medium throughout our studio members and visitors from around the world.
As we walk the hallway to the right, you can see the private studios along the right side of the path and the display shelves to the left.
You’ll notice a multitude of coffee cups throughout the building, and to many people’s surprise, it is one of the most difficult items we create as ceramicists. It’s a deeply personal object, and we don’t think about that often. We pick up our favorite mug in the morning, and we all have one, its just about the way you hold it, the fit of the handle, the curve of the cup itself and the texture of the lip. Who knew your mug was so custom fitted to your liking!
The diversity throughout the space here is amazing, and we invite you to take your time and learn about each of our artists. There is rarely a day when a kiln isn’t being unloaded and beautiful new work is being displayed, so please take a look at the kiln pad outside (near the parking lot) and feel free to ask questions of any staff or artist working.
If you jump over to the other hallway to the left, you’ll notice many drawings, sketches and signatures adorning the walls. This is a tradition in working studios, to have guest artists sign the wall, because it helps tell the history of the pottery. Visiting teaching artists from our workshops each year plus our graduated Artists in Residence have signed our walls, helping link the past to the future.
As you continue through the building, you enter the glaze room. The archway you just walked under is an impressive 18 inch thick. The black door that you can see behind the shelving unit is an original fire door that used to have a little copper wire at the top. If a fire were to occur back when the building was still a freight depot, and the copper wire got hot, it would trigger the wire and shut the door and contain the fire from spreading further into the building.
There are so many steps to learn in the world of clay, and the board displayed to your left on the east end of the room really illustrates the complexity of the glazing and color process. The board displays the same exact type of clay, using the same glaze, but fired at different temperatures and using different kilns. Please note the Gas kiln firings at the top, the wood kiln in the middle and the soda kiln at the bottom. This shows the diversity of the medium and students that are just getting started can feel overwhelmed with the complexity of the material, but this was created to help guide artists in their choices for their individual creations. Of course patience is necessary and many trials and errors should be expected.
In the glaze room you can see “NO WEBB” in grease pencil written on the bricks on the south wall. Evidently Webb City had the majority of cargo coming into the city, but needed to be sure and separate Webb merchandise from crowding into the other bays used by other merchants.
As you pass through the plastic curtain you’ll find the kiln room, noticeably warmer than the rest of the building containing 12 electric kilns. As a studio potter, you might have 1, maybe 2 electric kilns in your facility. Even college programs do not have this many kilns normally. This of course is in addition to our kiln pad outside housing the soda, train, wood and anagama kilns. The anagama kiln is an ancient type of pottery kiln brought to Japan from China via Korea in the 5th century, ours was built by famed ceramic artist Don Reitz.
As you continue through the double doors, you enter our classroom space. Wheel throwing directly in front of you, and hand building to the right. The Morean Center for Clay runs a variety of classes, in just about everything you might want to learn about the world of clay materials. Its really quite amazing, learning everything from a very simple slump form, to being painted and surfaced glazed, to some very complex and difficult techniques. The best part is, there are really no mistakes in the beginning, because we can help pull out anything you have created in your brain, there’s no right or wrong, just trial and error.
The remainder of the building is mostly used as an event space, however we invite you to please backtrack and view more of our artist studios, work for sale and explore our current exhibition in addition to the kiln pad outside. Thank you so much for visiting the Morean Center for Clay and please be sure, if you haven’t already, to inquire about tickets to the Chihuly Collection and Morean Glass Studio located downtown.
We hope you enjoyed your visit and ask you to consider becoming a Morean Member (you will save 10% on today’s purchases) or making a donation to our mission. The Morean Arts Center is a nonprofit organization with a Platinum Transparency rating from Candid.