BOUNTIFUL — There are treasures hidden in the basement of Stoker School.
Along one wall, rows of plates gleam in a variety of glaze colors. On a shelf, a froggy prince waits in his unfired bowl for a fairy tale worthy of the name. Over at the long tables, students get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience this type of art in a way they never could on a crowded campus.
The biggest treasure of all, however, is the fully-functioning ceramic studio that has been in place since the early 1980s, complete with a wide variety of kilns, wheels and other equipment necessary to teach students how to turn clay into art. Diane Shaw, who founded the studio with her husband and has been running it ever since, says that there’s no other space like it available in the county.
And when Stoker School gets torn down, it may disappear forever.
“We’ve loved working here, but it looks like it may come to an end,” said Shaw. “It’s really sad. I don’t think I’ve wrapped my head around it.”
Shaw and her husband John started the ceramics studio in 1981, using seed money provided by the University of Utah. These days, however, they operate completely independently, using their studio fees to handle expenses and pay the salaries of the studio staff. Since John’s retirement a few years ago, that includes Shaw and the studio’s part-time instructor, Kent Barton.
One corner of the room is devoted to pottery wheels, bought new in the last few years. A row of electric kilns are used for one stage of the firing, while three different kilns outside finish the work using a variety of different techniques. There’s an advanced studio upstairs, as well as a small lecture room downstairs.
“It’s so the students understand the history and technical aspects of ceramics,” said Shaw.
The studio has been the home of the U’s extension classes every semester since, using the same tables that the students ate lunch at in the original Stoker School. Some of the students commute here regularly from campus, since according to Shaw it’s “impossible” to get into the ceramics classes in Salt Lake because so many students fight to get in.
Brian Snapp, head of ceramics at the University, recently commended the Bountiful studio for inspiring so many students to go on into the main ceramics program.
“What’s unique about this is that it’s so hands on,” said Shaw. “You can’t teach ceramics online.”
Some of the studio’s students, however, come from much closer to home. Shaw has between 20 and 25 open studio students at any one time, who have already passed the requisite classes and use the studio resources to create what they’d like.
“This is therapy for me,” said Davis County resident Grant Hale. “It means a lot to me to be able to come in here and create.”
Dixie Barber, a Bountiful resident who’s been an open studio student for years, appreciates both the resources and the expertise of the teaching staff.
“I can come in and ask Diane a question, and I know she’ll absolutely give me an incredible answer,” she said.
In fact, the appeal of the studio reaches beyond generations. Shaw said that she’s had several students later send their children to the studio, pointing out one such student in the class that was scheduled to start in a few moments.
Once, the class even had a hand in helping those children come to be.
“We had a couple meet in our ceramics class,” said Shaw with a laugh. “They had three children, and all three kids took ceramics here.”
With Bountiful City planning to tear down Stoker School, however, there may not be a class for the third generation of the family to attend.
The city plans to tear down the school to make room for its proposed downtown plaza, and even if they don’t the building is no longer sound on a seismic level. It would take repairs, or possibly even a remodel, to keep the building open.
“My students have written letters they’ve sent to the city council,” said Shaw. “We’ve got a petition going to keep the studio open.”
Even if Stoker School stays where it is, however, the University of Utah probably won’t. Shaw said that the upcoming spring semester will be the final one for U’s Davis County Extension.
“The university saw the door open, and the mayor made no effort to create a new deal,” she said. “They’ve lost numbers over the years, and the city has let the building fall into disrepair. (The university) will be gone in May.”
The University of Utah may be leaving Davis County, but that doesn’t mean the ceramics studio has to. Shaw hopes to find some other space in Davis County to re-locate all of the equipment, though they would need some assistance with rent and the unique needs of the class means that not every space would work.
“We’ve got a petition going to keep the studio open,” she said.
Ideally, she hopes to come to an arrangement with a city similar to the one Bountiful/Davis Art Center has with Bountiful – the city bought the space the art center is currently in, and rents it to them for a dollar.
“We could be open to any opportunity to resettle,” she said. “We could scale this to fit the space.”
Shaw also said that, if someone stepped forward, she would be happy to go to the University of Utah and see if they would be willing to pitch in as well.
“If an opportunity presents itself, maybe we can hit them up,” she said. “See if they can pitch in.”
Those interesting in signing the petition to keep the studio open can find it at the main office at Stoker School. Anyone interested in helping to re-locate the studio to a new location can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whatever happens, Shaw said that she would see the studio through to either its end or a new beginning.
“I’m going to be 67 when this closes,” she said. “Originally, I was going to take that as an opportunity to retire, but I’m willing to see the program through the transition.”