Visual Arts: Master Builders

(detail) New Lost City by Arnie Zimmerman

Who among us doesn’t admire a master builder?  Most of us do.  It’s more than just the vision thing.  It’s having the dream and then making it happen.   In some small corner of our collective heart, we cheer for the person who, against all odds, makes something important happen.  That’s what struck me seeing the work of Sculptor Arnie Zimmerman who is sort of a Robert Moses of ceramic art.  Over the years, he has created out of clay an epic Lilliputian city filled with little buildings, structures, bridges and people going about their daily urban existence. His “New Lost City” is a brilliant study of urban achievement and decay.

And it all fits neatly into the new gallery space just opened by the Clay Art Center in Port Chester.  I first saw this work at the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I. and what a coup it is for the Clay Art Center to bring it here, thanks to the efforts of curator Leigh Taylor Mickelson.

But who is the real master builder in Port Chester?   My vote would go to Reena Kashyap, ceramic artist, entrepreneur, Port Chester mavin and principal champion of the Clay Art Center. Reena fell into ceramics in her native India, when the Ikebana class she planned to take was filled.  She opted instead for a ceramics class, later bought a wheel and mentored herself through books written by renowned ceramic artist Elsbeth Woody whose studio in Port Chester was a place where clay artists worked independently, traded ideas and lacquers and fired their work. Life brought Reena to America in 1986 and to the Port Chester facility.  She spent summers at the famed Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and dreamed of duplicating its incredible creative energy closer to her new home in Rye.  That opportunity came when Elsbeth Woody, who had moved to South Africa, invited Reena to take over her Port Chester studio.  Reena purchased the property and over the past ten-plus years  turned the place  into a not for profit art center with education programs for adults and children, master classes for artists, workshops for the community, a gallery and a shop to sell the work of affiliated artists.  As for the master builder, she just added another 4000 square feet to the original 7000 square feet of the facility.  She’s on a roll. At 4000 square feet a year…well, you do the math and email me at