“Clay pipe was invented for specific uses; it never would have been invented for art. It took a few ceramics geniuses to imagine new possibilities.” — Tom Franco, Mission Clay artist-in-residence

Have you been introduced to the captivating world of the Terracotta Corridor? This expansive outdoor exhibition is now on display in Napa’s Rail Arts District and boasts 21 impressive clay pipe sculptures. Presented by Mission Clay Products and Rail Arts District Napa (RAD), it’s a fusion of artistry and industry that’s truly a sight to behold. Curated with care by Shelly Willis and John Toki, the exhibition features selections from 11 exceptional artists, including Alan ChinCameron CrawfordAnn ChristensonCarolyn FordTom FrancoRobert HarrisonSusannah Israel, Lisa ReinertsonPatrick Siler, John Toki, and Rimas VisGirda. These artists brought their creations to life during residencies at the esteemed Mission Clay Art & Industry Program. Remarkably, a total of 21 sculptures made their journey to Napa.

I had the privilege of attending an enthralling presentation on the Terracotta Corridor by John Toki and Bryan Vansell, the visionary Founder and Director of the Mission Clay Art & Industry Program. This event unfolded during the California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art (CCACA) in Davis a few months back. Some participating artists shared their experiences during the presentation. Hearing their stories, challenges, and inventive solutions was fascinating. Can you imagine some artists had to complete the process of carving and glazing the 6 to 8 feet clay pipe extrusions within days due to the fast drying speed at the location of the residency program in Phoenix, Arizona? Following the enlightening presentation was a book signing for the recently unveiled exhibition catalog. This beautifully illustrated 80-page catalog delves into the history of the Art & Industry Program, the sculptures themselves, and the brilliant ceramic artists behind them, adding depth and dimension to the viewer’s journey. 

What makes this exhibition unique is its ingenious concept and dynamic viewing experience. The exhibit harmoniously blends creativity and industry with the Mission Clay Products facility, renowned for its sewer pipe production, which also serves as the very origin of these extraordinary sculptures. This fusion transforms ordinary sewer pipes intended to be underground and unseen into impressive standing masterpieces. As John aptly noted, “Unique to the viewing experience is that artworks in most cases viewed in ‘in motion’—people traveling on the Napa Wine Train at 20 miles per hour, people on bicycles and scooters, and those running or walking or even driving around the city of Napa near the Vine Trail.”

Why not treat yourself to a day of artistic exploration? Experience the enchantment of the Terracotta Corridor in Napa and witness the transformative power of clay, passion, and imagination. I’m excitedly planning my visit. The exhibition is accessible along the Napa Vine Trail, Oxbow Public Marketplace, and near the Culinary Institute of America (Copia) until December 2023. You can see the location of the sculptures on this map

If you want to know more about this amazing project, an exquisite exhibition catalog titled “Terracotta Corridor” is available now at the Napa Wine Train Gift Shop at 1275 McKinstry Street in Napa. If you are interested but can’t make it to Napa, the link to purchase the catalog will soon be added to the RAD website. Owning this catalog is like holding a piece of the exhibition’s magic. 

And, make sure to check out these captivating short videos: 

Installation of Terracotta Corridor – Rail Arts District, Napa, CA. 2022 

Mission Clay Art & Industry – Making Pipe Sculpture 2022

Submitted by Mari Emmori    (image: exhibition catalog cover)