Energy is always in motion and scientist Maria Drangova epitomizes this statement. A doctor of medical biophysics, Maria first fell in love with clay art in 1993 as she neared completion of her PhD. A unique individual, who craves the freedom of expression, clay presented an outlet for her dynamic talent. Born in Bulgaria, as a teenager Maria made Toronto her home. Her introduction to clay art came via a family friend – a ceramic artist, who created fascinating, non-functional pieces. Her work aroused Maria’s interest in experimenting with the flexible material, and while completing her studies at Western, the budding medical biophysicist decided to enroll in clay classes. Fiercely ambitious, Maria later ventured to Stanford, California to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship. While there, she worked in a city-run ceramics studio that brought out her creative side once again. This enjoyable experience imprinted itself on her mind and helped formulate the vision for a similar centre in London. Upon her return, Maria was determined to revolutionize the clay art landscape in this city. From 1991 until they moved into their current home, the LPG occupied a small space in the city-owned East Lion’s Artisan Centre. But, a sizable working studio remained elusive. However, with a concrete vision shared by several other dedicated clay artists, that was about to change.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Maria worked tirelessly to transform 664 Dundas Street into an artistic powerhouse that now stands as London Clay Art Centre (LCAC). From dealing with engineers, electricians and lawyers, to actually helping tear down walls and design the interior, multi-tasker Maria did it all. The building was renovated in four stages over five years and metamorphosed into a welcoming, communal hub for artists and clay art enthusiasts to learn, practice, and perfect their craft. Maria has devoted countless hours to proposal writing, fundraising activities, and spreading awareness of the Centre and its numerous products and services. Despite taking such an active and consistent role in LCAC’s growth and overall success, she has never held an official seat on the Board. This decision allows not only for her creative and professional freedom, but unrestricted time to wholeheartedly dedicate herself to LCAC and its many worthwhile pursuits. It is truly an impressive feat for someone who has clearly struck a remarkable balance being a professor at Western University, conducting medical imaging research at Robarts Research Institute, and maintaining an exemplary presence at LCAC, where she designs, plans, advises, fundraises and so much more. A consummate communicator, Maria has grown from her experiences at LCAC. Her excitement is evident whenever she mentions the multitude of diverse personas with whom she has interacted over the years. One who leads by example, Maria continues to contribute her time, knowledge and finances to LCAC as her passion is perpetual. Wherever possible, she also tries to encourage others to do the same. Through her work with LCAC, Maria also became involved with the Old East Village Business Improvement Area as LCAC’s representative and the Chair of its board of directors. That in itself, provided another venue for her to selflessly contribute her talents to improving the community. A visionary in every sense, Maria fears stagnation and is optimistic that LCAC will continue to grow. Her time with the LPG is nothing short of a true labour of love. Calling for more donations, Maria reveals there is so much untapped potential that can and will undoubtedly change lives. Infrastructure, once expanded, will offer more opportunity to not just adults desiring to be part of an all-inclusive community, but also to children seeking to nurture their own skills and express their creativity. Maria is an ardent believer in LCAC’s Clay 4 Kids Program Fund and says that given the necessary financial and strategic support systems, it can make a magnanimous change in the lives of many. She believes that LCAC can also reach out to schools to build collaborative programs that expose more youth to clay art. Maria is also quite passionate about seeing the artistic growth of London clay artists, many of whom have benefitted immensely from LCAC’s artist-in-residence program which holds vast potential. The community at large can also benefit via awareness of LCAC’s varied and exciting offerings and knowledge about the lives that have been changed forever just by simply getting involved. As for the future, Maria can’t picture one without The London Potters Guild, which she considers family. It has embedded itself within her in such a way, that she is constantly thinking of new ways she can continue to make a meaningful impact toward London Clay Art Centre’s development. A talented artist herself, Maria is also eager to return to creating clay work. For the scores of clay artists who call LCAC home, Maria Drangova must be remembered and acknowledged as a titan among us who was essential in building our legacy facility. A silent but integral part of the organization, her contributions are unquantifiable and timeless. LCAC will always be Maria’s home away from home.
CLAYWORX: CERAMIC ARTS LEARNING CENTRE FOrmerly LONDON POTTERS GUILD AND LONDON CLAY ART CENTRE
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