Down Under Pottery provides pottery classes, new friendships

By Maranda Loughlin on September 9th, 2013

The front yard of 3318 Randolph St. holds a child’s dream playground with a tree house, a trampoline, a full garden and three miniature dachshund guard dogs. The home’s backyard is a parking lot — the back entrance to Kathleen Grossman’s dream: her own pottery studio and business, Down Under Pottery.

Grossman moved to the corner house on Randolph in 1997 after being charmed by its atmosphere. She thought it would be the perfect place to build her paint studio upstairs, and also have a basement pottery studio. The goal was to keep her work close to home so she could stay home with her kids.

Instead, Grossman built her business inside her home.

“We were actually looking for a place like this,” Grossman said. “As soon as we found (this house) we began to renovate it and set up my studios.”

To Grossman, this house cannot only be described as an at-home pottery business. It is her place of giving, a warm spot for social gatherings. Outside of her kiln room where she fires her students pottery at 2,000 degrees, there is a bulletin board collage filled with smiling mug shots of all of her customers.

“These people are my social life. I don’t leave my home a lot.” Grossman said. “I really enjoy my potters, and I want a place for them to have fun working.”

Grossman’s home has always been the place for get-togethers. Not only does she teach classes on week nights, but she works Saturday mornings as well. The studio has also been frequently used for her kids’ and potters’ activities. Potters come to the house to gather around the wheels and share a common creative talent, while her children have used the studio for date nights. Grossman also hosts art shows and has previously hosted her kids’ school events.

Sixty-eight-year-old painter, Karna Cronn has been going to Down Under Pottery for the past 15 years. When she first began looking for a place to learn pottery, there were a few potential places to choose from, but she said Grossman’s stood out from the rest.

“This is the one I chose, because of the house,” Cronn said. “It was definitely a place where I was glad that I came.”

Cronn goes to Down Under Pottery, even when she doesn’t have anything to make. To her, Grossman’s house is like a second home, a place she has met some of her closest friends and brought some of her pre-existing ones too.

“It’s a good group of people,” Cronn said. “Saturday morning is the support group. It’s the therapy group of all the sessions. Sometimes I don’t even do any pottery when I come. It just depends.”

Cronn doesn’t have the patience to sit and work on a pottery project for hours at a time, she said. If she can’t make it in five minutes, she won’t do it.

But her pottery is anything but basic.

“I do leaves, I do really big leaves,” Cronn said. “I must be in my leaf phase now, you see. Two years ago I told Kathleen, ‘Next time you see me come down the steps and I have leaves in my arms, turn me around and make me go back outside.’ Well, it didn’t stick because I am still doing leaves.”

Cronn searches for large leaves that have detailed skeletons and then flattens the veins against clay to give the dish texture. Once this is finished, she cuts the clay into the shape of the original leaf, making any type of dish she wants.

Next to Cronn’s shelf of clay leaves is a large rack full of a couple dozen clay bowls, each unique in their own regard. By the spring, Grossman’s basement will be filled with at least 1,000 clay bowls. This is part of a group project that Grossman’s students, including Cronn, have been a part of for the past 12 years. The Down Under Pottery group will donate all of the bowls to the Lincoln Food Bank for the Empty Bowl Luncheon in the spring of 2014.

“It’s a fun project to work on. The day that it happens is just amazing,” Cronn said. “It’s fun to watch people look at the different bowls we’ve made.”

The project also sparks a little bit of friendly competition in the group.

“A friend of mine challenged me to make the number of bowls that I am (in) age, so I am doing 68 bowls and he’s doing 67,” Cronn said. “If I don’t get them done before December I have to do 69.”

Grossman works on the bowls daily as well. The process is therapeutic for her. She makes it look easy, Cronn said.

It wasn’t always so, though; it took perseverance.

“I had some connective tissue problems, and I still have some issues with it,” Grossman said. “Sometimes, if I feel my fingers tingling, I know that I have to quit.”

Grossman’s master’s degree was originally going to be in pottery until the tissue problem in her hands grew to be too much. Because Grossman didn’t think she could continue with pottery at that level, she switched her area of study and received a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Wichita State.

However, while her hands posed impossible hurdles, Grossman couldn’t go without pottery for much longer.

“I have to make sure that my hands and arms stay strong,” Grossman said. “I discovered that as long as I am working continuously I don’t have as much problems with it anymore.”

Cronn sits on a stool and mimics the way Grossman makes pottery. She holds her hands around the air and weaves her fingers up and then pushes the air back down to mold her invisible pot.

“I had always wanted to be able to throw a pot on the wheel,” Cronn said. “Kathleen makes it look easy, and it’s not. But anyone can do it, and everyone should try it.”

Anyone who is interested in trying their hands on the pottery wheel can attend a class on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. or on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Down Under Pottery runs two events every year around Christmas time and Mother’s day to sell artwork. Classes meet once each week for eight weeks and include up to 20 pounds of clay, a supply of tools, a range of glazes and firing for $150.

Over time, Grossman’s home has become a community with a shared love for art and, more specifically, pottery. One might consider this a cheap price for an avenue to create art and a group of people of which to belong.

The first time I came here I was really jazzed up for it,” Cronn said, “and I still get jazzed for each new class.”

arts@dailynebraskan.com

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