The Artists – Spencer McClay: weaver |

The Artists – Spencer McClay: weaver

John HartSpencer McClay adjusts the yarn on a loom at his home on Main Street in Grass Valley Tuesday. His weavings, hanging in back, were part of Thursday's Art Walk in Auburn.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Spencer McClay likes to hang out with his friends, maybe go to dinner, followed by a movie.

McClay’s free time is limited, though. He is a weaver, Neighborhood Center of the Arts client, an NCA weaving teacher’s assistant and a weaving teacher at an Auburn agency.

Neighborhood Center of the Arts is an art, community and vocational center for developmentally disabled adults.

McClay also volunteers at the center’s Full Circle Art Gallery at Fowler Center on Saturdays. In January, he finished a six-year term as a member of the FREED board of directors.

“I do all of this because I like it. I don’t like sitting at home,” McClay, 37, said with a chuckle.

Ellen Persa, the new NCA executive director, depends on him.

“Spencer’s ability to see the needs of the client, as well as the organization, is really unique. His input is critical to a lot of our program development,” she said.

When Persa spent one of her first Saturdays at Full Circle Art with McClay, she took notes.

“He shared some ideas on what the board could do, how the programs can be enhanced, and had some wonderful fund-raising ideas,” Persa said. “Someone doesn’t show up for a certain activity, Spencer jumps in and is your man. He’s pitched in to do janitorial, mailings. He’ll assist any other client who needs help.”

McClay is just doing what seems natural to him.

“I’ve been at the center the longest. I know how everything works, how staff works with the client,” he said. “I like it because Gillian Hodge started the program. It’s a great program; it’s wonderful for people to be there. There’s no other program like ours.”

He began the program in 1984, and was a volunteer when Hodge was the executive director.

Weaving for more than 15 years, McClay first studied the art at a special-education school in New Orleans before moving to Nevada County. He credits teacher Shelley North-Gerson, though, at NCA as being his weaving mentor.

“It wasn’t easy to learn,” he said with a laugh. He completes at least two weavings a week. “It takes eight hours to set up a loom. Every time you finish a piece, you have to start all over.”

His specialty is wall hangings.

“A lot of people I know like to see new things. I use different dyes so the wall hangings come out brighter. I use cotton, wool and fleece,” McClay said. “I put shapes and curves into the works so they’re not being flat. I like to play around with the works.”

McClay’s weavings have been recognized in several competitions. He took second place at the California State Fair and first and second places at the Nevada County Fair in weaving competitions last summer.

On Thursday, McClay was a featured artist in the Auburn Art Walk. That morning, he was looking forward to the reception.

“I did this 11 years ago,” he explained. “It’s a lot of fun. I hope someone will like my five wall hangings, and I’ll get a commission from it.”

Some of McClay’s works will be in Neighborhood Center of the Arts’ annual Spring Art Show on Litton Drive from 1 to 5 p.m., May 2-4. Call the center at 272-7287 for more information.

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