An Art Adventure, Visiting the Archie Bray, Helena Montana

Posted on April 23, 2009



An Art Adventure, Visiting the Archie Bray

Walking the 26 acres through the ruins of the old brickyard that is home to the Archie Bray Foundation is a surreal experience, like that of Alice as she explored Wonderland.


My Alice on this trip was my youngest daughter Kate. Kate is an Art student at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell Montana.


Clay excites her, just ask her about the possibilities of making art with clay and be ready for a long conversation. Kate had just returned home after she cut her spring break trip to Seattle a day short. With a day to spare, I suggested we take a quick day trip down to the Archie Bray to see what was going on. The Archie Bray is located just outside Helena Montana, about a three-hour drive each way from Columbia Falls Montana give or take a few deer crossings on the Swan Highway. If you’re not from Montana, you have to realize a 6 hour round trip is a short drive in a very big state.

Established in 1951 by Brick Maker Archie Bray, “…for all who are sincerely interested in any branches of the ceramic arts, a fine place to work.” Archie Bray, Sr. 1951

Archie Bray Foundation Website:


As you enter the grounds, you immediately know you are some place speacial. Spread across the landscape is remains of Artist Residents past and present. Sculptural installations inserted into the ruins of the old brickyard along with discarded pots and ceramic sculpture left behind as former Resident Artists left this special place to make their marks on the art world. Many former Resident Artists, noted in every who’s who list of the modern art world have transformed the modern arts and crafts movement into what it is today. Ideas and the freedom to explore new ideas and methods through the creative process is the magic of the Archie Bray, a rare and unique opportunity in today’s society.


To attempt to explain the presence of place that you as a visitor experience in words, as you explore the grounds, is a poor substitute to recreate the feeling and mood of the Bray. Mysterious marvels hide in every corner high and low.


Venturing into the old Brick kilns is something like entering old forgotten temples of the past. Walls of thick glaze attached to the interiors of the kilns run over the firebrick, with greens and yellows that peer out of the darkness glimmering in the shafts of sunlight beaming in from vent holes above. Mysterious machines and tools litter the grounds often becoming part of art installations.



Fantastic structures rise up out of the landscape and create a surreal experience foreign to the natural landscape.


The ruins of Wonderland stimulate the imagination and the inner child artist in all of us. Make no mistake; in this Wonderland, the future of ceramic art and craft is now being invented and transformed. The New the Next great ideas are taking shape, form and they will become part of the history, and the legacy of the Bray as it has been now for nearly six decades.


As Kate and I explored the Bray, we were having a lot of fun with our own invented scavenger hunt. We were looking for the Tops created by former Bray Artist Richard Swanson. Swanson’s Tops are everywhere throughout the landscape in the likely and the most unlikely places. We wondered, how did he get that one up there? This is the story of the Archie Bray, treasures around every corner and on every pinnacle.


For you the reader to truly understand and experience the Archie Bray you just have to go there. The Bray is just one of those magic places that hold a different and unique adventure for everyone.


Your trip to the Archie Bray will be punctuated with encounters with current Resident Artists working in and out of their studios. The New Resident Studios are open to visitors and give you the opportunity to meet and watch the artists work.


The Bray Art Gallery is host to current and past artists; their work is on display and for sale. If you want to get your hands dirty, you can take classes and attend art clay workshops throughout the year taught by the leading Artists in the field today.


As we left Kate had the Archie Bray summer clay workshop schedule in hand. This years summer workshop schedule offers the young artist an impressive choice of opportunities to learn from today’s masters in the field. Kate also picked up a product catalog from the Archie Bray Clay Business. The Clay Business sells, well clay and all the material and tools the artist needs. After years of the best of the best, the Clay business is an impressive resource, and they ship. Kate was very excited about the variety and colors of glazes stocked in the shop.


So if you live in Montana or are going to visit, make the Archie Bray a mandatory stop or day-trip on your schedule, you won’t be disappointed.


As Kate and I keenly watched for deer on our three-hour trip back home through the Swan, our lively conversation about the Archie Bray fueled ideas and our imaginations.



New Wood-fired Kiln aera

Check out the Archie Bray Foundation Website.