Steamboat Springs If you don't pass on what you know, it dies. That is the philosophy with which potter Jonathan Kaplan entered the current phase of his life.
"Knowledge is cumulative," he said, and it has been cumulating since the first time he sat behind a potter's wheel as a 16-year-old high school student.
"I knew immediately that I was going to be a potter," he said. And yet he still entered college for pre-med, then switched to the architecture program at Case Western Reserve in Ohio.
It was a strange time to be anywhere in the United States, let alone in Ohio, where a student demonstration against the Vietnam War turned into the infamous Kent State massacre, in which four students were killed, one paralyzed and eight wounded.
University administrations weren't taking any chances.
Because the architecture department of Case Western was vocally antiestablishment, administrators decided to shut it down, Kaplan said.
He took a few night classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and set up a ceramics studio in the basement of his house, before deciding to follow his fate and enroll full time at the Rhode Island School of Design.
After graduation, it was time to make a living.
"I had to figure out how to sell pots," he said. "It was the time of the American Craftsman Movement and there were a lot of buyers in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., corridor."
In 1975, Kaplan bought a turn-of-the-century cigar factory building in Bowmansville, Pa., and made it his home and studio for the next 13 years. The demand was high and Kaplan worked at turning out pots to meet it.
"That is where I earned my stripes," he said. "But by 1988, I was burned out."
Kaplan put everything in storage and moved to Telluride. He took a $4.25-an-hour job as a ski tuner in the winter and worked as a bike mechanic in the summer. He opened a take-out restaurant called Asian Cuisine to supplement his income.
Time and the sporting goods industry moved him to Steamboat Springs in 1990.
He saw Twentymile Warehouse being built in 1991 and realized that he might be ready to return to ceramics.
But he didn't want to get back behind the wheel selling to shops and wholesale shows as he had in Pennsylvania.
"I don't have to work that hard anymore," he said. "Now, it's time to give back."
From the road, no one would guess how much activity is going on behind the Twentymile Warehouse door simply labeled "Ceramic Design Group."
The two-floor space houses Kaplan's personal studio, a 10-wheel classroom, rented studio space and several kilns loaded with pots and dinnerware waiting to be fired and shipped in every direction across America.
Ceramic Design Group as it exists today is the home to a small-scale manufacturing business where Kaplan turns the designs of others into reality.
Six years ago, the Ceramic Design Group partnered with Colorado Mountain College to offer several ceramics classes each semester. Potters Jody Elston, Julie Anderson, Susanna Peti, Gail Holthausen and Judy Day have all taught classes in the warehouse classroom.
"A lot of people have come through here and been influenced by this place," he said.
Last year, with the Lift-Up Empty Bowl Project as a catalyst, Deb Babcock, Trig Gerber and Lance Whitner from the Ceramic Design Group put out an invitation to anyone in the community who might be interested in starting a clay artisans group to increase awareness in the area of Steamboat's active ceramic scene. The Steamboat Clay Artisans, as it is now called, will search out a venue for the sale of work and for ceramic workshops.
"There have been potters for a long time in Steamboat, but this will be the first pottery organization. About 35 people came to the first meeting and I looked around at all the faces," Kaplan said. "Almost all those people had come through this facility. It felt good to have that kind of influence. This place is important simply because there are no other clay facilities in Steamboat and there are a lot of people who want to have a chance to learn this craft."
Pottery is the oldest craft -- clay and fire.
"Pottery shards is how we document who's been here," Kaplan said. He enjoys putting people in touch with that tradition, "teaching them how to make something."
But he tries to teach them more than just the techniques of controlling clay.
"I try to give them a new way of looking at things," he said. "Pottery is the last bastion of rugged individualism.
"When I look at the students, I don't look for who will be the next potter. I look for who can look at the work in a new way. It's easy to teach skills, but it's harder to change the paradigm of the visual world."
To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
or e-mail email@example.com