Deborah Bedwell has spent the past 20 years molding Baltimore Clayworks to match a vision shared by her fellow founders.
Now, she's savoring a milestone -- the Mount Washington ceramics center turns 20 years old this year -- and planning a grand celebration. There is plenty of good fortune: an expansion enhanced by the gift of an old mansion in the neighborhood and a White House Millennial Council mural project.
"We're planning, scheming, raising money," Bedwell said, to finance a $3.5 million expansion of its building, a 1919 former city library, and the opening of the Provincial House across the street Sept. 9.
Formerly a residence for the Sisters of Mercy, the large Victorian Provincial House was given to Clayworks by St. Paul Cos. a year ago. The gift was a surprise to Bedwell, the nonprofit's executive director, who was accustomed to watching every nickel and dime.
"It was as if they knew. It more than doubles Clayworks' size, and it's quite lovely," Bedwell said. "We'll move our galleries across the street and eventually have a visiting-artist apartment and administrative offices."
Bedwell said the expansion of the original building will preserve its rambling nature as a wing is added on one side. The architectural firm RTKL is working on drawings for the two-story addition.
Six staff members, along with 17 teachers and 12 resident artists, are supported on a tight budget of $550,000. Last year, the gray-stone building on Smith Avenue had about 950 students in its ceramics classes.
In the same year, Clayworks was selected for a $25,000 regional grant as one of the White House's millennium projects. The grant pays for a mural project, which has begun, that will place ceramic images of Harriet Tubman, the Maryland-born heroine of the Underground Railroad, in five Maryland counties.
Outreach was part of the vision at the beginning, and the murals are its latest expression. Clayworks teachers have worked with hundreds of Baltimore public school children, Bedwell said.
Clayworks is proof of the power of volunteer leadership, Bedwell said, mentioning her 22-member board of directors. "We have seized the day," she said, "in moving the organization forward."