• Ceramic Expression

    November 10, 2002 Ceramic Expression By Alexandra Rockey Fleming THE WASHINGTON TIMES

    Children are creative creatures. It’s in their makeup, part of their aura. Contemporary ceramics studios play right into that creativity. These paint-your-own-pottery studios are enjoyed by skilled craftspeople as well as the less artistically inclined. They feature a vast array of items, from platters, bowls and cups to a plethora of figurines, large and small, individually priced and yours for the painting.

    My 7-year-old daughter and I recently visited the Falls Church location of Clay Cafe Studios, one of 10 or so make-it-and-take-it ceramics shops in the area. It was a quiet Monday afternoon. The only crafters were a couple of adults happily painting their creations while the several staff members stood by to offer assistance. At Clay Cafe, a $6-per-hour studio fee includes all paints, materials and decoration tools, instruction, glazing and firing.

    As staff do for all new customers, manager Gayla Hassett guided us around the studio. The first stop was the mosaic center, where would-be artists can create surface decorations by inlaying small pieces of colored glass to form pictures or patterns. She showed us the rows of jars containing glass bits that had been tumbled — whirled together in a container — to smooth the jaggedy edges. The selection included a tantalizing array of beads, large gems, iridescent squares, mirrors and squiggly glass in a variety of shapes, such as worms.

    Visitors interested in creating a mosaic choose a wooden base — ranging from a small plaque ($6.95) on up to the Lazy Susan ($59.95), Ms. Hassett explained. They are instructed to select any and all of their glass bits from the jars and then begin their creation, gluing pieces one by one to the surface of their base. My daughter, Natalie, could scarcely contain her excitement. Before she could get started on a mosaic, though, we needed to continue our tour, so we moved on to the unpainted pottery.

    Oh, the choices. After a few minutes of deliberation, Natalie picked out a 6-inch horse ($13.95). Ms. Hassett helped her choose several shades of brown paint, which she squirted onto a tile to begin the process of transforming the stark white figurine into a beautiful spotted horse reminiscent of Misty of Chincoteague.

    While music played softly in the background, Clay Cafe owner Helene Safford spoke about how anyone can come into a place like this and create. “In traditional ceramics studios, there’s a long learning curve,” she said. “Here you’re shortcutting the process so you don’t have to make such a lengthy time or financial commitment.” Customers range from toddlers to retirees. The studio ranges from very, very busy to calm and quiet. “When kids are in school, I’ll have senior citizens or mommies that come in with their infants,” Ms. Safford said.

    Cheryl Fitzgerald is neither, but the Vienna resident, serenely painting foxes onto a bowl, said she had come into the studio a week earlier with her sister “and now I’m addicted. I’ve come in every day since.” Completing her horse, which we would leave to be glazed and fired before picking up the finished product at the end of the week, Natalie moved on to the mosaic center. She had had her eye on decorating a small birdhouse, but Ms. Hassett persuaded her to try a flat surface instead for her first mosaic project. She chose a small plaque and proceeded to pick out a hodgepodge array of glass pieces. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years,” she remarked as she sat gluing and poking. I know we’ll be going back.

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