If you’ve heard of Sawtooth School for Visual Art in downtown Winston-Salem, you know it as a place to learn a new creative medium. Chances are, you’re asking yourself what you can get out of a class at Sawtooth — but what you might not know is that when you sign up for a class, you’re signing up for a community.
“Sawtooth has a lot of long standing connections with artists in the community,” says Kevin Mundy, interim executive director at Sawtooth. “It’s amazing how many accomplished artists say, I took a class at Sawtooth, or I’ve taught at Sawtooth, or I used to be on the Sawtooth board. When you’ve been around as long as we have, it’s no surprise that so many people trace their roots back to Sawtooth.”
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Sawtooth is housed in the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, operated by The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. The historic building, once a Hanes hosiery factory, stands out in downtown Winston-Salem. Its geometric, triangular rooftop mimics the teeth of a saw, lending the school its namesake. Each segment of the ceiling features giant skylight windows — original to the building — that allow natural light to stream into the studios and galleries throughout the day.
The school offers more than 500 art classes in a given year, catering to beginners, experts, and everyone in between. Perhaps you’re interested in improving your photography skills, or getting a hang of woodworking, or learning how to make your own metal jewelry. The instructors at Sawtooth are here to help you grow. Not sure if you want to commit to long-term lessons yet? Sign up for a Taste of Art class: a laid-back, single-evening art experience that allows you to get a feel for whatever medium strikes your fancy.
“Anytime I talk to someone who’s never been to Sawtooth, I tell them I’m not a visual artist,” Mundy says. “But I’ve taken some of our Taste of Art classes, and I’ll tell you what, I’ve done pretty well. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
Sawtooth instructors — whether teaching a workshop, a reoccurring class, or a summer camp for kids — focus on both demonstration and hands-on experience. Classes typically only hold a dozen people, so the instructor is always available for one-on-one direction. Got a wonky pot on the wheel? Help is on the way, guiding your hands to get that pot back to where it needs to be.
“Our instructors do such a good job of making art approachable,” Mundy says.
Sawtooth’s instructors, artists, and students are tight-knit. Collectively, they create a difference in the larger community, using art as a tool for raising awareness, support, and change in the Triad.
Enter Warren Moyer: a pottery instructor who has been teaching classes at Sawtooth for more than two decades. One of those classes is called “Make Three, Share One,” a one-day session each spring during which participants make three pottery bowls by hand and then donate one (or more) to Empty Bowls, which benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC. Attendees buy a ticket for lunch, where restaurants in the area serve soup in handmade bowls created by local potters, and then they get to take an original pottery bowl home with them. Last year’s event had more than 1,000 attendees.
“The event seems to be growing each year, so the demand for bowls keeps growing,” Moyer says.
In addition to fundraising events, Sawtooth works with the Second Harvest Food Bank independently on a regular basis. The food bank is home to the Triad Community Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program, which is dedicated to empowering people to achieve their goals of employment and self-sufficiency. Sawtooth uses their catering services for special events, just one example of its long-standing relationship with the food bank.
Whether you are visiting the Eleanor and Egbert Davis Gallery in the lobby, taking a nine-week course, curbing your curiosity with a one-time workshop, or just browsing the gift shop, Sawtooth School for Visual Art is more than meets the eye.
Mundy hopes that visitors and students will find that Sawtooth appeals to their individual talents and interests.
“If your objective is to spend a fun evening with friends, I hope you walk away saying, That was fun! I want to do it again,” Mundy says. “If you’re a more accomplished artist or an advanced student, I hope you walk away saying, Sawtooth really knows what we need to continue learning. I hope they all achieve the objective they walk in the door with. There is something for everyone at Sawtooth.”
This year’s Empty Bowls event is on April 26 at the Benton Convention Center, presented by Texas Pete, which is based in Winston-Salem. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Learn more here.
Sawtooth School for Visual Art
251 North Spruce Street, Winston- Salem • (336) 723-7395 • sawtooth.org