Paint Your Own Clay Pottery

by Celia Hayes

In our never-ending search for interesting things to write about in, and around San Antonio, serendipity took a hand last week. We were actually heading for WingStop in Embassy Oaks for our monthly Red Hat gathering, but we were early. With some time to kill, we wandered into the nearby Clay Casa, a paint-it-yourself pottery studio – just to see what was on hand. I understand that the popularity of this as a hobby has never really gone out of style; in Victorian times it was called china painting, and was considered a suitable hobby for genteel young ladies, the kind of thing taught in finishing schools. From there, the urge to ornament pottery and china segued into the hands of professional artists and skilled amateurs in the Arts and Crafts movement – to art potteries like Rookwood, Van Briggle, Newcomb, Grueby, Rosewood and the rest. Vases, tiles and plates from these studios often show up on the Antiques Road Show and command quite astonishing prices.

Currently it seems that the china-painting hobby – like a great many other home-making hobbies – has come around again. I usually blame Martha Stewart for a lot of this busy-little-hands-at home stuff, but I do have to admit that in the right hands, and given a simple design and a degree of skill, the results can be quite pleasing. The Martha’s designs for dot-painted pottery are really quite attractive on their own, although I don’t think they could come anywhere near to redeeming the Clay Casa pottery blank that represented a box of fast-food fries. Not even Martha herself could do much with that.

But the Clay Casa isn’t just set up for single ambitious artists to work alone on their project; their focus is on group events for friends and congenial strangers: Sundays are a family fun day, and during the weeks of summer, they have an art project summer day camp for kids, regular classes in mosaic and fused glass, Girl Scouts can earn a patch … and Clay Casa can even host kid’s birthday parties. (There are actually a number of DIY art studios in San Antonio offering these kinds of activities, especially for kids. When my daughter was in high school, she used to work for a place called ArtWorks, in Carousel Court, in Alamo Heights. If it is still the same enterprise, they have two outlets now.)

We hung around for about half an hour, talking to the duty staff, and admiring some of the finished projects. Some of them, especially the fused-glass projects were quite beautiful, and reminded us of Howard Redmond’s glass bowls and ornaments … or at least, a fair start on the way to creating something along the lines of what he does, professionally. The work areas were large, well-lit and welcoming to customers and aspiring artists. When and if I can ever tear myself away from a hot computer, I might just come back and try my hand at pottery-painting. That dot-painted china from Martha Stewart did look very nice, and I am certain that I could do something like it, in white and blue.