The Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Edgecomb continues its expansion and modernization efforts with the addition of new Executive Director Liz Seaton, who moved to Maine from Maryland in January.
The center was founded in 1986 to support artists working in clay, offering residencies, workshops, programs, fundraisers, and public events.
A capital campaign begun in 2015 has brought updates to the center including a new open-concept studio and a new combination gallery-administrative building.
“This is an art center making its way forward in leaps and bounds,” Seaton said, offering an enthusiastic tour of the center’s gallery, residency cabins, studio space, six kilns, and sweeping grounds.
Seaton’s primary goals in their new role are threefold: to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion in programming, to offer year-round programs by 2024 through campus winterizing, and to plan for the center’s future with the development of a new strategic plan.
Another big project is in the works, they said, but remains a secret for now.
Seaton began as a student ceramicist in their Michigan high school art classroom, where they spent lunchtimes working with their partner, Pat.
After an early career in designing car parts as an industrial drafter, Seaton moved to Washington, D.C. in 1986 to work in policy following the Bowers v. Hardwick case, which ruled that states could criminalize private relationships between LGBTQ+ couples.
Later experience in Maryland brought Seaton to work as an attorney, legal counsel, several executive directorships, and experiences in the fields of disability and LGBTQ advocacy. They departed a position as policy director at the National LGBTQ Task Force to join the Watershed Center.
Throughout this career, Seaton was active in a number of artistic pursuits — lidded pots in particular, when it comes to ceramics — and has experience in watercolor and gouache painting, children’s book illustration, and nonfiction writing.
They completed two artist residencies in Alaska, one for painting and another in nonfiction writing. Seaton found the Watershed Center while searching for a residency in ceramics.
“I like the north country,” Seaton said, comparing the two states.
The next residency would have conflicted with their daughter Ryan’s graduation from The College of Wooster in Ohio this spring and transition to graduate school in the stained glass conservation program at the University of York in England.
Seaton subscribed to the newsletter instead, planning to wait for a future application cycle. When an email arrived about the search for a new executive director to follow Fran Rudoff, they put together an application in the same day.
“It’s a good sign for job fit when the cover letter writes itself,” Seaton said.
They put the application aside, but said something kept pulling them about it. When a friend asked about it and Seaton said the deadline was that very day, she told them to put down the phone and send in the application.
The next morning, the center called to schedule a first interview, and Seaton accepted the job in late November after several rounds and a site visit while classes were in session.
“I just fell in love with the place,” Seaton said.
Seaton feels Watershed’s programs are unique because they focus on creativity and community, led by the artists.
“The work they produce helps advance ceramic arts in the state, in New England, and across the country,” Seaton said.
A new strategic plan will be part of that advancement, and Seaton said it is exciting that they don’t know yet what it will look like. Some programs might begin alongside existing programs being built out, they said.
Seaton’s ideas to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion include scholarships for non-white artists, partnering with The Color Network, hosting a workshop for Wabanaki artists, and applying to the National Endowment for the Arts next year to fund a longer mentorship program for artists.
Emphasis will also continue on the center’s professional development programs for K-12 educators, Salad Days summer fundraiser event, kiln rentals, and gallery exhibitions in the new Joan Pearson Watkins House, which also holds the administrative offices.
About 2,000 people pass through the center’s programs every year, according to Seaton.
“The spirit of the people who have been here is embodied in the land,” Seaton said, pointing out ceramic sculptures from residents past that decorate the grounds.
Watershed Center has capacity for 14-16 artists in the summer months for two- to four-week residencies running May to September. Six types of firing kilns, a woodworking shop, large working spaces, and the community atmosphere of residencies allow experimentation and collaboration.
“Art-making magic happens here,” Seaton said.
“I love it here, and I love showing this place off,” Seaton said with a smile at the end of the tour, ready to return to their light-filled new office in the Watkins house.
For more information about programs and opportunities through the Watershed Center, go to watershedceramics.org.