Wake Living — Spring 2015
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MJ Vieweg

Just outside of Raleigh, tucked away in the town of Creedmoor, the Cedar Creek Gallery sits snugged on a patch of land that was once a tobacco field. Though the gallery had humble beginnings, it has evolved into a center that supports and celebrates craftspeople and their handiwork.

In 1968, the late Sid Oakley and his wife Pat started with a small pottery studio on that piece of land to create and sell their work. Over time, and through the connections that the Oakley family developed with other craftspeople, there are now ten other buildings housing pottery and glass blowing studios alongside the central building that houses the gallery.

“Everyone who has come here has had an impact on shaping this place,” said Pat Oakley. “Sid’s vision evolved as other craftspeople were able to sell their work here and it began to be a place to showcase other artists as well. Some craftspeople came out here to this area to live and work. Our studio and gallery began to branch out.”

Since Sid’s death eleven years ago, the running of the gallery falls to daughter Lisa Oakley. “Lisa has made an impact with the direction in which the gallery has expanded,” said Pat. There has been some operational change and some new employees have come on board, but Lisa will tell you that the changes are paradoxical. “There have been a lot of changes, but nothing has really changed,” Lisa said. “The gallery is going exactly where it is supposed to be going.”

Before his death, knowing it was imminent, Lisa asked her father to tell her how she should run the gallery. What could she do to stay true to his vision? Pat recalls that Sid told Lisa: “You will know exactly what to do.”

“It was the greatest gift to be told that,” Lisa said. “He knew that the gallery would be all ours then.”

Festivals that Celebrate and Demonstrate
The ten artists with studios on the grounds of Cedar Creek Gallery are working artists. Although the gallery is open most days except for Christmas and Thanksgiving, the studios are considered private areas for the artists to work. The Cedar Creek Gallery staff hosts several festivals throughout the year. These festivals focus on how the crafts are made.

“The craft demonstrations at the festival are a way to educate our visitors about the artists’ process. Many people don’t understand what goes into making a piece of pottery or how glass is blown. The demonstrations show people the work that goes into making the handicrafts,” said Pat.

Having the chance to see any one of the resident artists at work create some of the products that are for sale can add another dimension to a visit to the gallery. “People like to make the connection with the artists, and the artists enjoy sharing their work and explaining the processes to visitors,” said Lisa.

On festival days, visitors have the chance to watch how potters use their hands to shape and guide clay from a lump thrown on the pottery wheel into a useful object such as a vase or bowl. They can watch glassblowers use metal rods, flat knife-like paddles, large tweezers and special shears, and other odd-looking tools called puffers to literally blow into and stretch molten blobs of glass into graceful, colorful, functional, or decorative items. “The finished product is nothing like the process,” said Lisa, explaining that glasswork means working with a substance that is as hot as lava that moves and drips like liquid. An aweinspiring process to watch, knowing that the fluid-like glass will transform to an object that is solid and rigid.

A Hub and Spoke Community
Not everyone working at Cedar Creek Gallery is a resident artist. Most of the employees, though, have a creative bent. One gallery assistant is a fiber artist who shows her work independently of the gallery. “Most of the workers here, no matter what their jobs are, have a creative spirit,” said Pat.

Having all those creative spirits in one place causes the Cedar Creek Gallery to have an energy of its own which combines each employee’s contribution. Lisa is a craftsperson in her own right — an accomplished glassblower and also an insightful and progressive manager.

“You begin to realize what people’s strengths are and then you step out of their way to let them do what they do best. Besides, everyone pitches in to do what needs to be done,” Lisa said. “I work with everyone here rather than have them work for me. There are things some of them do a lot better than I can.”

Lisa suggests a metaphor for how the employees, artists, and she and her mother, Pat, operate the gallery: a wheel. It has a central hub with many spokes. The two parts work together to create the momentum. “When Daddy died, I thought maybe he was the hub and we might not be able to move forward without him after all. I came to realize that even though he was an enormous piece of the place he was not the whole piece. It was not just him that made this place, it was all of us,” she said.

Yet, it is still very much an artist community. Even though there are different artists working in different mediums, they do all learn from and support one another. How can a potter inspire a glassblower? “When you watch another artist working, especially in another medium, you do pay attention to what they are doing, how they are manipulating the clay for example,” said Lisa. “The artists all have their own styles.”

Jennifer Stas, who has a potter’s studio at the gallery, suggested the inspiration among the artists comes from appreciating the different ways each artist approaches their chosen medium. “It is all about form and function,” she said.

“It is not a competition here,” said Lisa. “I might finish a piece and be disappointed in it because it did not come out as I envisioned it. It may have a flaw that distracts me, but another one of the artists can see a different aspect of it that I overlook and that will change my perspective. Inspiration and creativity can grow out of that.”

Showcasing the Craftwork by Theme
The Cedar Creek gallery now showcases over 200 artists. Many have their work displayed for sale regularly in the gallery and in some of the themed shows. For example, a recent show at the gallery was titled: “Cupful – celebrating the daily ritual.” Coming up with the themed shows is a creative process in itself. The Oakleys gather with employees in front of a large, curved brick fireplace – a same cozy spot to take a break or eat lunch by. Lisa explained how the idea for a show featuring cups and mugs came into being.

“We sat by the fire and asked ‘What does craft add to our lives?’” she said. The idea was gently tugged, stretched, kneaded, and tossed until it was distilled down to considering the special moments of a day and the rituals that accompany them. For many, a daily cup of tea or coffee starts the day; for others, a glass of wine punctuates the end of one. Potters and glassblowers create items that are functional for everyday use yet are beautiful, unique, and symbolic.

Inviting artists to explore the use of cups in ‘the daily ritual’ resulted in 400 handcrafted mugs and cups arriving from potters and glassblowers all over the United States for display and sale. “The spirit of the craftsperson shows in each mug, cup, or in any piece of handicraft displayed in our gallery,” said Pat.

Delightful Day Trip
Walking into the ambience of the gallery, you will notice the sense of flow and harmony. Ceramic and glass vases, ornaments, wall tiles, bowls, sculptures, plates, urns, and the like are displayed alongside handcrafted jewelry.

There is a lot to look at and discover. Yet even with the fairly large amount of inventory the gallery offers, it is not busy or overwhelming. The handicrafts are displayed with some panache on lighted shelves along the walls, on free-standing displays, on narrow tables, or tucked into corners. Jewelry is laid out twinkling and sparkling in glass cases and on turning display stands. The rooms are connected and seem to flow in and out of each other. It is brightly and cheerfully lit which makes browsing a pleasure. You might want to take thoughtful turns through the gallery rooms before deciding on which piece beckons to you the most.