Twice a week, a group of women gathers in downtown Leesburg, Virginia, to get their hands dirty. They’re taking an art class at the Clay and Metal Loft. The studio was founded by two local artists and serves two purposes: it’s a work space for producing and selling pottery and jewelry, and it’s a community space for the aspiring local artists to gain the skills and confidence needed to start their own business.
Hands in clay
In the Clay Hand-Building class, ceramist Amy Manson shares techniques with participants who seem to be enjoying what they are learning, which today is using the pinch pot process to create a pumpkin. “So, we’re making two pinch pots and closing them to make a round orb and sculpt it to look like a pumpkin. The first time might be a little bit scary. They are not sure, a little bit intimidated on how hard to push or how the clay is going to react, but after one time, they get a little more confidence and feel good about it.”
Barbara Johnson is one of Mason’s students with a background in art. She started doing pottery three years ago.
“I do lots of painting, very much crafting,” she said. “I love to do decorating. I’ve done stained glass. I’ve done all kinds of things. I like to go from thing to thing to thing. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing pottery though. Having your hands in clay is just this calming kind of thing and it’s so creative because you may start out thinking you’re going to make this piece, and it turns to something totally different.”
Johnson set up a pottery studio in her home and has recently begun selling her work to a local retailer. She admits, “I’m humbled a lot of times, when someone says they want to want to purchase my things, and have them in their home. It’s just one of the things that make you feel so good.”
Even though she’s selling her work, Johnson still enjoys Manson’s class. “Amy is amazing as far as allowing us to learn her different techniques, all the things she learned over the years. She shares all of it. Just the little things that you go. ‘Ah, that’s amazing. I can incorporate it in doing my pottery at home.’ Being with other gals, I’m loving just the idea of being with women who are amazing potters and you’re in the process of learning all the time from everyone else.”
For her part, Manson says inspiring others, passing on skills and watching them grow is rewarding.
About five years ago, she and her friend, Ann Andre, started looking for a space to start this business. “We thought it would be a lot of fun to give back a little bit,” says Andre, who has 30 years of experience as a goldsmith and metalsmith. “We had been working in our own businesses, but then to teach and have other people work. We thought wouldn’t it be great to do something that was more clay and jewelry making because we didn’t see anything like that before?!”
The feedback from students, she says, has all been positive. “When they start, they see a project that we’re going to do for two hours and they don’t think they can do it,” she explains. “Then, they realize, ‘Oh, I can. I can transform this.’ They hammer the metal. They get an effect. They never thought they could do themselves. They form things like a bracelet. They’re just excited they made this and they go out wearing it, which is really nice.”
That’s how her student, Jennifer Metesh, feels, when she wears the turquoise and silver pendant she made. “I’m a country girl grew up with horses,” Metesh says. “Turquoise is always a kind of a symbol of that rustic look.”
Considering a second career beyond horses, she’s finding a potential in jewelry making. “I wanted it to be my fun thing. I feel that there has been such a revival of the handmade items that people are more willing to pay for something that is made by a single artist than something that’s mass produced.”
The founders of Clay and Metal Loft want to be part of that revival. Through summer camps, they want to inspire kids. And through their monthly ladies’ night workshops, they try to help busy professionals unwind.
Their goal is to become a creative, fun space for the entire community of Leesburg.