It has been 4 years since I have stepped foot in Ketchum, Idaho. I was with my husband, 4 month old son, and tween step daughters then. We were invited to stay in the home of Frank and Susan Ward so that I could teach summer clay camp for two weeks while my stepdaughters swam in the pool and became to understand how Sun Valley got it's name. Since then, 5 people that were important in my time here have passed away. One former roommate and friend, two who had beautiful voices and spirits that captured the community theater stage, and one who taught me about early morning coffee and baking. And then there is Susan. She introduced me to the joys of teaching ceramics and I returned to the valley this time not to share time with her but with a heavy heart. I was there to celebrate her life with family and friends at Boulder Mountain Clayworks.
"Do you want to teach the after school kid's classes?" Susan asked. I remember the first time I spoke with Susan. It was the year 2001 and I was using the old, tan phone attached to the wall in my parents' bay house kitchen. We had just celebrated the holidays and I was about to make the solo drive from Alabama to Idaho, moving to a place I had never even visited with my boyfriend who loved cross country skiing. Even though I was full or trepidation, I remember the feeling after I spoke with Susan of knowing that everything was going to be okay in my new home.
When I pulled into Ketchum, I parked in the middle of town and put on my Banana Republic, knee-length, black, wool coat. There was fresh snow already piled high next to the parking spaces, recently plowed. It was February and this Alabama girl felt like she was in a dream land. I floated around town with hope. When I stepped into the studio for the first time, I remember feeling that same hope and sense of home. It was instant. And every time I entered the "open studio" door since I have felt that same world of belonging.
"This is what Susan wanted." Susan's husband, Frank stated as he addressed the 100+ people who gathered to celebrate her life last Sunday. "She wanted people to come to this place that she created with love to celebrate community and share stories. She didn't want us to be sad." I saw people that I had not seen for 10 years and we hugged each other knowing that we were happy to see each other but also sad under the circumstances, trying to stay strong for Frank and the rest of Susan's family. This place, Boulder Mountain Clayworks, had brought so many of us together. For me, I became an adult here in my mid-twenties and stayed for 4 years full time. But when I left to go to grad school in 2006 I couldn't seem to really let it go. In the summers, I returned to teach summer clay camps. Susan was always there, beyond the open studio door, to greet me with a smile and support and even offered me a free place to stay each summer with my growing family.
As I think about this space that has been so special to me, I contemplate my attempt to create special places. I realize that in my classroom I want students to walk into a community where they feel a sense of belonging and know that they are always welcome to return. Maybe one day I will honor Susan's spirit and create a place inspired by Boulder Mountain Clayworks, with an "open studio" sign attached to the door.