CHOSEN FAMILY: A CHAT WITH THE CO-FOUNDERS OF GASWORKS COMMUNITY CLAY STUDIO
For many of us, the definition of “family” extends far beyond the traditional concept—we meet special people throughout our lives who we bond with so closely, we choose to consider them family. In honor of our much-loved Perfect Vintage denim “family” expanding, we decided to feature a chosen family we admire: the tight-knit crew at Gasworks Community Clay Studio in NYC. We were also lucky enough to chat with the co-founders, Cor and Emiliano Garcia-Held, about all things ceramics and togetherness.
Tell us a little bit about how you first started the studio. What’s the mission behind it?
Cor: We started the studio five and a half years ago. While training as an art therapist, I was taught that relationships are at the heart of all human development and are integral to our growth. That has informed our lives and what we want the studio to be. Traditionally, the ceramic arts have been practiced in a community because it has literally taken a village to come together to mine the clay, mix the glazes and fire the work. We're not re-inventing the wheel here—we're just trying to ground ourselves in what human beings have been doing for millennia: making art together.
That’s exactly why we wanted to feature you and the rest of the crew at Gasworks—that sense of togetherness and how you embody the idea of a “chosen family.” Why is community especially important to you?
Emiliano: I see community as fertile ground for individual and collective growth. I’m fascinated by the unique ways that we can all grow within a community that both supports us and challenges us. For me, this interest started during my 15 years working as a professional musician, and it has expanded beyond music. Being part of the crew at Gasworks NYC means being part of an ongoing conversation with many vibrant voices going back and forth. All the sharing of ideas and feelings provides a rich soil for individual and collective growth on personal levels, professional levels, intellectual levels, emotional levels, and perhaps even spiritual levels (if there is such a thing).
What a lovely way to think about it! Do you have any examples of how “family dynamics” play out in the studio?
Emiliano: At Gasworks NYC, Cor and I often hear staff referring to us as “studio mom” and “studio dad.” There are some significant parallels between a parent's responsibilities to their children and our responsibilities as employers. Cor and I are responsible for providing a safe and healthy environment for our staff. We try to give them the best training so they can grow their knowledge and develop their skills. Hopefully, they can benefit from the years of experience that we share with them. We want them to succeed in the same way that a parent wants their children to succeed.
We also have students and members who spend enough time with us in the studio to feel like family. There are studio grandmothers and grandfathers who share their wisdom and guidance with us when we ask for it. There are folks of all ages who feel like studio aunties, uncles and cousins. There are many moments when the studio-family vibe is strong. Eating together, doing karaoke together, going to swimming holes together, laughing together, making art together. A few weeks ago, one of our employees called me up in the middle of the night because she broke her leg near the studio and needed help going to the emergency room. It doesn't get much more family than that.
You all sound like a truly supportive group. Do you think working with clay has a special way of bringing people together?
Cor: When I was first studying art therapy, I was told that clay absorbs more emotion than any other material. We think there's truth to that. Clay is one of the only sculpt-able materials—it responds to our touch at room temperature. You can't do that with metal, wood, glass or stone. This adds to its magic as well: we can mold it into anything our hearts desire. Clay cycles from the center of the earth as hot lava to the crust of the earth and then gets transformed by wind and water and time. Then we transform it again with our hands, adding water and fire, mimicking the cycles of the earth. Does being a part of that re-creation heal us, ground us, center us? We think so.
Clay can also be a heartbreaking material to work with. The cracking and failure rate is enough to have Instagram accounts dedicated to ceramic casualties. Clay teaches us about loss, acceptance and resilience. It is literally made up of the same stardust we are, in that it is a malleable material capable of expressing our innermost fears, hopes and longings. It fosters resilience in the face of difficulty, and it re-involves us in the creation of so much matter on this planet. In the same way that clay particles stick together, clay also helps communities stick together.
Thank you so much, Cor and Emiliano (!). Ready to meet our Perfect Vintage denim family (i.e., all the amazing fits the Gasworks crew is wearing here)? Let’s go.