By Allison Plitt
If you mingle among the artists in Long Island City and mention the name Ellen Day, you will likely elicit at least one smile on somebody’s face.
Day, a resident of Jamaica, is a very popular figure in the Queens art scene and it is not just because she is an accomplished artist in her own right.
Day is single-handedly responsible for establishing BrickHouse Ceramic Art Center in Long Island City where many people take classes, rent shelf space, and craft their pottery, ceramics and sculpture in a creative environment.
If you walk into BrickHouse on any given day, there are people creating art everywhere – throwing clay on potters’ wheels, hand-operating slab rollers, pushing their clay through extruders to develop certain shapes, firing up their artwork into kilns, or applying different glazes to their pieces in hopes of transforming what was once a mound of clay into something totally unexpected.
BrickHouse is not just a haven for accomplished artists. Lessons are given there by various instructors year round for adults from the beginner to the advanced level.
The 4,000-square-foot facility also has a small shop when you walk in the front door where you can check out certain pieces for sale.
All of this is thanks to Day who grew up in Queens.
She got her feet wet in the art world when she was student Springfield Gardens High School, where she took a pottery class. One of the pieces she designed ended up on exhibit at Lever House in Manhattan and, as a result, she became imbued with self-confidence.
Shortly afterwards, Day pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics as well as a Master of Fine Arts in ceramic sculpture. She has exhibited her sculptures nationally in many shows, but when she became a ceramics instructor and then the ceramics director of the Crafts Student League at the YWCA-NYC, she began to focus more of her efforts on functional ceramics. While some of her pieces are sculptural, others are utilitarian in the shape of cups, plates and bowls.
When the YWCA-NYC closed in 2005, Day was determined to find another home for her and the other students.
“The Y was closing and I liked my job. I had 200 ceramic students and they enjoyed being at the Crafts Student League,” Day said. “We wanted to stay together and we wanted a great space.”
Unable to find a large area in Manhattan to re-create the studio space of the Crafts Student League, Day reached out to Long Island City Partnership which helped her discover a place that matched her needs.
When Day opened BrickHouse Ceramic Art Center in 2007, many of the former members of the Crafts Student League followed.
In the eight years as owner and director of BrickHouse, she has definitely seen changes in her students.
“We have some artists who started as brand new beginners and are now out in the world selling their artwork at craft fairs,” Day said. “We also have sculptors who are doing very well selling their work. They’re in different shows and some have won awards.”
Every year in the beginning of December, BrickHouse holds a holiday sale for those who work at the studio to sell their pieces. This year the holiday sale will be held Dec. 11 — 13. Prices vary from $10 to upwards of hundreds of dollars.
“There are a lot of affordable pieces,” Day adds.
Although at BrickHouse Day is often found in her office, she still finds time to create ceramics in the studio. Her days devoted to sculpture have disappeared for the time being, but her feeling of satisfaction of overseeing all her students compensates for this loss.
“My favorite part of my job is watching students grow and learn different things and get really excited when they get great results and enjoy coming to BrickHouse,” Day said. “They start off thinking that making ceramics is some way to relax, but then they start making things and start seeing what they’ve made. It’s really nice to see people learn to grasp the skills to make things in the way they want them to be made.”
For more information about BrickHouse, you can visit their website at www.brick