LAFAYETTE -- When the Lafayette Gallery lost its sculpture garden three months ago during the redevelopment of the former Petar's restaurant site, gallery members saw this as a sign -- it was time to move.
After 14 years at 50 Lafayette Circle, this week the Lafayette art collective moved to a building on Mt. Diablo Boulevard known as the Forge, a space previously occupied by Pacific Wildlife Galleries.
"The space is more than twice as big, is on multiple levels and has gallery lighting already installed, so it's a significant professional upgrade for us," said artist Geoff Meredith, the gallery's marketing director. "In addition, we've added a new focus on ceramic art; the gallery will now be featuring an award-winning group of ceramic artists whose work includes saggar fire pottery, rake-pit fired, wood-fired and low- and high-fires work. The Forge location and the buildings behind it was once the site of a major commercial pottery and ceramics studio, kiln and factory, so we're coming full-circle."
Artists packed and moved to the new gallery location on Sept. 30, and have been feverishly setting up in time for the gallery's opening for the first show at the new site on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
The new space at 3420 Mt. Diablo Blvd. is almost double the size of the old gallery -- nearly 1,100 square feet. The old gallery was 600 square feet.
The new ceramists include James Aarons, Coreen Abbot, Steve Allen, Michael Berkeley, Lauri and Kurt Fehlberg, Lesley Jensen, Olga Jusidman, Judy Bolef Miller, Virginia Rigley, and Cheryl Wolff -- all well-known artists who have their own stable of collectors. The gallery will still feature the work of its core group of painters, jewelers and photographers.
Miller, one of the gallery's founding members, reminisces about the old location.
"We did a lot to that space," said Miller, a resident of Lafayette for more than 30 years. "It was an old house before and used to be the chamber of commerce. It's been a lot of things."
Miller said that local sculptor Joe Bologna, who was instrumental in installing the gallery's sculpture garden, had mentioned the new site at the Forge.
"So instead of waiting until we were actually 'kicked out,' we thought this might be a good opportunity," she said of the move to the Forge. "It had been a beautiful gallery before. It can be a beautiful gallery for us now."
Now, the artists are gearing up for the new show that opens Oct. 8, with the grand opening reception to be held Nov. 9.
"We'll have more floor space so we can really make it a destination for ceramic arts," Miller said. "I got a little misty-eyed about the old space because this was something I had a part in creating. But we're really excited about the opportunity to grow as a gallery."
With the help of the Lafayette Historical Society, Meredith researched on the artistic heritage of "El Diablo Forge," a complex of buildings begun in 1946 by a metalworker and artist, C. Carl Jennings. Jennings, a third-generation blacksmith and graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, was a member of the Metal Arts Guild of Northern California, Meredith said.
Jennings found adobe tile at a tile works in Pacheco, and the hand-built roof tiles in Stockton. The roof tiles are made from flat slabs of adobe, and bent over the tilemaker's leg to form, resulting in considerable variation in shapes. The forge itself was coal-fired until 1965, when Jennings converted it to gas, which was both faster and cleaner. Jennings worked at the El Diablo Forge location until 1969, when he moved to Sonoma. His wife Elizabeth operated a garden shop and nursery on the property. The Jennings' lived in the adjacent adobe building which is currently the Artisan Bistro.
Jennings achieved considerable renown as a metal artist. His decorative iron gates still grace the Christian Brothers wineries in both St. Helena, and Mont la Salle. He won the purchase award at the 1958 S.F. Art Festival, the architectural award at the Richmond Art Center in 1963 and had a one-man show there in 1964. He had a two-man show at the Valley Art Gallery in Walnut Creek in 1968, Meredith said.
In 1969 Jennings sold the Forge to Rachel Koehler, who maintained the artistic heritage. By 1974 she had established a collection of boutique shops and galleries, including a stained-glass maker, a silversmith, a leatherworker, a creative arts workshop, a co-op gallery featuring six artists and a shop featuring pottery and silver from Mexico.
Lafayette Gallery artists celebrate the artistic tradition continues today at the Forge.
"We're staying in town and we're bigger and stronger and more exciting than ever," Miller said.