Cover Story: All Fired Up

Function and art combine in do-it-yourself pottery shop

Share on Nextdoor
Jymi Bolden

While recently cleaning out a closet, I came across some of the clay art projects I made in high school. "Why don't I throw them away?," I wondered. "They're just collecting dust and taking up space."

But after all the time and effort I put into them, I couldn't bring myself to pitch them. If only they had been more functional pieces, I'd have objects that not only were expressions of myself but useful as well.

Well, function is the key word at The Kiln in Hyde Park Square. This ceramics shop offers you not only the chance to paint your own pottery, but it's pottery that you can use over and over again. Their shelves are filled with pots, cups, pitchers, bowls, platters, plates and coasters.

"This is where ceramics is going," says Carol Philpott, owner of The Kiln. "This is for the whole family.

Everybody can do it. People (who aren't artists) can do it. It's a good family activity."

Unlike places where you throw your own pot, The Kiln uses dinnerware that's pressed and imported from Italy. The other objects are made from molds by local and national people. There are also some hand-thrown pieces.

As I wander around the store, I look at the shelves for a piece of pottery to work on. I decide on a shallow bowl in the shape of a half-moon face because it can serve equally well as a wall hanging or a receptacle for earrings and pennies.

Besides the functional pieces, The Kiln does offer some decorative items as well as holiday-related pieces. While I'm there, a couple of moms bring their kids in to paint something for a Father's Day gift. And unlike that handprint in clay most of us remember giving Dad, a special plate for holding burgers will actually be used for years to come.

It was around the holidays when Philpott opened her store in November 1997. "The first day was slow," she remembers. "It was 'I don't know, I'll see.' Then we had an open house."

That's when Philpott began to have people volunteer to help out.

"We are so grateful to the people who have supported us," she says. "We have a lot of customers who have been here since the beginning. One woman called before I was open (to book a birthday party). That was when I had the feeling 'OK, I'm doing the right thing.' "

When the Muse Calls
When asked what inspired her to open this type of shop, Philpott talked about trips she had taken with her family.

"We visited a couple of (ceramic) places on vacation," she says. "The one we visited the most was in Michigan. On the way back home I said, 'We need one of those in Cincinnati and, if I wait, someone else will do it.' "

Customers have come up to her saying they enjoyed similar places in Colorado, Cape Cod and other spots around the country. It was definitely time for Cincinnati to have such a place.

Artistically challenged people need not worry. There are stencils, stamps and cut-out sponge shapes to help guide you in your design efforts.

"That's the neat thing about contemporary ceramics," says Philpott about people with no art background coming in. "You help them achieve something they are proud of or can give (to someone as a gift)."

Staff member Joselyn Magnan concurs that the best aspect of her job is "seeing how excited people get over their own work."

One student I saw working there was copying a design out of an art book. Other people work freehand with whatever ideas come to mind. And there's always a friendly staff member nearby to offer advice or answer questions.

"There is no doubt the personality of my staff has made the difference," says Philpott. "I feel really lucky to have these people."

Her employees, she says, have all kinds of backgrounds: high school students, art majors in college as well as education, anthropology and business majors, people with a retail background.

Magnan, a creative writing/psychology major at the University of Colorado in Boulder, decided she wanted to spend part of her summer break working in the shop because, "I've gone in and done it myself and I really enjoyed it. All the people are really nice."

The additional staff has given Philpott time to expand one aspect of The Kiln. This summer she plans on adding some classes, programs for kids and adult workshops.

"We're meeting the demands for something new. The classes will be both technique and projects-based," says Philpott, who describes the workshops as being for both ceramics and glass fusion. In glass fusion you take various pieces of colored glass, arrange them in a design and then heat it. The pieces melt and are fused into a solid piece (i.e. a plate, coaster or bowl).

Staff member Sue Brown describes the process as "a way to embellish glass and give it dimension and a texture design. It's altogether different than painting pottery. The only thing they have in common is they both go in the kiln."

Step by Step
After selecting my piece, the next question I'm confronted with is design and color. I choose some glazes from a selection of over 60 hues. There are even speckle and puff glazes to choose from.

Patty Philpott, one of the shop's employees, cautions me on two things: to choose darker colors than my base color so that the designs I paint will show up, and not to ask the workers by the kiln if the colors will be darker when they are fired. For anyone uninitiated in the world of ceramics, it's hard to imagine that the light, chalky pastels painted onto a piece will turn into darker, more vibrant colors once they've been fired in a kiln.

I choose a light blue base with purple, yellow and orange glazes for coloring in the sun, planet and stars I've traced onto my piece. While at the shop, I learn that marks made by an ordinary pencil disappear after the piece is fired in the kiln. The shop also has a special pen used to make marks that will remain after firing.

Another step taken at The Kiln is a special glaze that's coated over every piece before firing. It's this special glaze that gives fired pieces a glossy finish and make them dishwasher safe.

That's key if you want to use the items. Longtime patron and Fairfield resident Joanne Meibers agrees.

"It's no fun to make them if you don't use them," she says, explaining that she uses the items she makes every day. "I love the finished product."

Meibers was visiting the toy store next door when she first saw The Kiln. "I said 'Oh my gosh, this looks so neat,' " she says. "So I called up and found out their hours. I came on a Tuesday, and I've been coming on Tuesdays since."

Meibers describes how the staff doesn't try to make you turn out some perfect, gift-store looking item.

"The thing that I really enjoy about it are the people who work there are so encouraging," she emphasizes. "You do your own thing. It's a fun place to be, very relaxing. I have a couple of friends who meet me there and we have the best time. Everybody comes in, drinks coffee and talks to each other."

When family and friends admire pieces she's made, Meibers gives them to that person.

"It gives me an excuse to go back," she admits.

Object d'Art
A week has gone by since I handed my moon over to be fired. That's the prescribed time for picking up your ceramic piece from the shop. Not knowing what to expect, I produce my receipt and wait for someone to retrieve my little dish.

When it's handed to me, it takes me a minute to realize it's the same dish I painted the week before. The dull, lifeless glaze has given way to a shimmering sky blue with splashes of melon orange, golden yellow and African violet purple. After taking it home, I clear off a spot on my dresser for it and fill it up with some stray necklaces, a bracelet and my watch. Perfect.

Besides leaving with a bowl or plate, Brown says that customers also leave with "a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They're sort of surprised with themselves and with how well the pottery turned out. It's, 'Wow, I really did this and it came out great.' "

Then she adds, "Creating things is good for the human spirit."

THE KILN is located at 2714 Erie Ave., Hyde Park Square. 871­1771. Summer hours are 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. Prices range from as inexpensive as $2 to as expensive as $75, but most of the pieces are in the $10 to $20 range. It costs $7 for adults for the first hour of time spent decorating; $5 for any additional hours. It costs $5 an hour for children.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.