City grant builds up local ceramics studio

Set at the very back of the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge’s campus is a ceramics studio, a mini-Mecca for artists of all ages and skill levels. Some of the students have participated in the ceramics program there for just a few months, others for more than a decade.

Miriam Ellis, who signs her works “Mims,” discovered the studio 12 years ago when she enrolled her son in a children’s ceramics course. She quickly began to envy the fun her son was having creating works of art and started taking classes herself. Today she spends about eight hours a week in the Community Center’s studio.

“I live very close; I could practically walk here if I didn’t have to schlep all my stuff,” said Ellis, a La Cañada resident. “It’s great having this here. I didn’t know this existed until my son started taking a class here. It’s kind of tucked away.”

The Community Center’s ceramics director for the past four years, Miriam Balcazar, hears that all of the time. La Cañada residents, she said, are constantly telling her they’d never heard about the ceramics studio until they randomly stumbled upon it.

Ellis had never experimented with ceramics before and the happenstance discovery of the program got her hooked.

“You know, once I stuck my hands in the clay I was just addicted to it,” she said.”I can’t get bored, there’s always something new to try or more to learn.”

The word is getting out about the program, Balcazar said. The studio underwent a year-long renovation, thanks to $10,000 in grants from the La Cañada Flintridge City Council. The new look has in turn brought more attention to the center’s ceramics program, she said.

The average ceramics class size has recently grown from five to 12 people, said Megan Nordvedt, the center’s executive director.

When Balcazar first heard she had $10,000 at her disposal, she didn’t quite believe it. After the initial shock she began mapping out how to spend it. The first purchase she made was an electric kiln, which has greatly sped up the time artists have to wait until they can see their finished product.

The rest of the money was used to buy four new pottery wheels, reposition a sink and revive another unused one to speed up the clean-up process, replace the heater and air conditioner, install a sliding door to better control the studio’s temperature and reformat the glaze and spray room.

It was all done on a tight budget, as Balcazar stretched the money as much as possible, making use of volunteer help whenever she could.

Reid Takahashi has been attending classes at the Community Center for four years now and was happy to volunteer his time to help renovate the studio.

“There is a commitment on the part of the Community Center to constantly improve and Miriam [Balcazar] in particular has really helped the ceramics program,” Takahashi said. “When you see that kind of commitment from the Community Center it makes you want to do your part.”

The updates only add to what has made the Community Center’s ceramics studio great for so many years — the people, Ellis said.

“It’s the camaraderie between the artists,” she said. “At some studios people don’t want to share their ideas or anything, but that’s not the way it is here. People are sharing ideas and it builds a community feel and that’s wonderful for art.”

Bachi Johnson, 69, has been in the art world for 20 years and been to countless studios in Southern California but the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge is “No. 1” because of the people there.

Johnson has been attending ceramics classes at the Community Center for 10 years and she plans to make it 10 more.

“I’m going to be coming as long as I can do it, as long as I can walk,” she said.



To enroll in a ceramics class, visit the La Cañada Flintridge Community Center’s website,, or call the office at (818) 790-4353. A six-week ceramics spring session costs $170 and runs from April 11 to May 30. A summer session is $130. A new eight-week sculpture class is also available, costing $225 in the spring and $170 in the summer.

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