Sculptors find their art enclave
By Lou Fancher
The odds that a tree-hugger from Michigan and a native of Mexico with wanderlust would end up owning and operating a ceramic studio in Pleasant Hill are unlikely, at best.
But that is exactly what has happened, as "ClayStation 6" owners David VanderJagt and Olga Jusidman marvel at their surroundings.
The studio's 900-square foot space offers adequate room for their clay-strewn tables and four stations available for rent or lease by other artists. A kiln room, storage space, outdoor raku kiln, slab roller, closet-converted-to-kitchen, free parking and 24-hour access for those who want it round out the business's amenities.
"My guts told me to live here," Jusidman says, beginning to explain the business partners' unlikely, crisscrossed paths.
She might be speaking of the lunch she had at Walnut Creek's Silk Road restaurant five years ago, while visiting cities along California's coast in pursuit of a new home.
"Ten minutes after we sat to eat, I said, 'This is the place.' It was February 2009. I sold everything in Mexico and came here that July," she says.
Or, she's referring to her and VanderJagt's shared, natural set points; a tendency to work all hours -- making a business become a place to "live" not just to work.
A third interpretation is Jusidman's habit of instinctive decision-making that has led her to live in Mexico, Israel, and for five years, California.
A ceramist, photographer, jewelry maker and former owner of an art gallery in Mexico City, 71-year-old Jusidman found the Civic Arts Clay Art Studio even before she'd unpacked her bags. There, she met VanderJagt, 64, himself a transplant who had followed two of his children to Walnut Creek after a 31-year teaching career in Grand Rapids, Mich.
As a teenager, VanderJagt had imagined himself becoming a dentist. He veered off course to become primarily a middle school art and science teacher after digging his hands into clay in a college ceramics course. The experience captured the essence of his childhood passion for animals and things of the earth like fire, water and wind.
"I love that clay is earth, a material you're manipulating and shaping. Firing it and glazing it: I go back to earth elements and they're all part of the clay process," he says.
The energy translates into his work; in the colors and textures created in the firing process that transform earth into his sweeping pieces of art. There's a sturdy darkness behind it all: literally in his ceramics and like a shadow trailing his work ethos.
"I like to hand build. I work crazy hours," he says.
Jusidman is just as likely to pursue completion of a piece she loves into the wee hours of the morning.
United in a philosophy extending beyond "crazy" schedules to include purpose, Jusidman says, "People who look first for function will look at my art and see holes."
It's true, a signature of her ceramic pieces and the jewelry she designs based on them, are perfectly sculpted holes, like tiny windows a viewer may appreciate or use their imaginations to complete, or value for their graphic declaration.
Vanderjagt says Walnut Creek's clay studio, where he and Jusidman met, is a wonderful facility and community in which to work, but they wanted to open their own studio, which led them to Craigslist, where they found the property listing. A space next door to ClayStation 6 they hope might someday allow them to invite painters, photographers and other artists to join their "art enclave."
But for now, they are content.