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Fire up your own pottery creation

“Sgraffito” ” to scratch or make marks on wet pottery. It’s the Italian word decorating the storefront of a new Grass Valley Arts and Crafts shop that opened March 22, where people can come in and design their own earthenware pottery.

“I want them to come in and make their mark,” said Jo Ann Stone owner of Sgraffito.

It works like this: customers come in and choose a piece of white ceramic pottery ” a tile, a sushi plate, or dipping bowl, pitcher, or tea pot and Stone will teach the various techniques used to paint the object, using brushes, sponges and other tools. After the “bisque” is painted it will be kiln-fired and ready for customers to bring home in a week.



Paint-your-own-pottery-stores such as this came into fashion in the early ’90s after the “Pull Cart” made its debut in New York City. The concept quickly caught on and now there are about 1,000 similar studios in America and abroad.

Stone, a retired lawyer, got the bug a year and a half ago after taking her first class. She set up a studio in her garage where she dabbled in the hobby before she realized she could make some money doing something she enjoyed.




Savvy, tough and sharp-witted, the hardened lawyer had to re-discover herself while she learned some business basics. It’s all the small details that make a difference, like the power of balloons to bring in a crowd.

“They don’t teach you retail stuff in law school,” said Stone.

She knew the higher rent prices and limited parking meant a shop in town was out of the question. She found an old auto repair shop behind BriarPatch Community Market and with the help of her “significant other,” a contractor by trade, began remodeling. Today there is no evidence of machine shop fires and only the roll-up metal garage door gives clues to this shop’s past.

“I wanted a look of a European storefront both inside and out,” said Stone.

The place is warm and chic in earth tones and teal, shelves are lined with white pottery and worktables beckon visitors to create.

An interior wall with windows and glass doors was built to partition off the room where a small 18-inch diameter porcelain low fire kiln and drying racks are housed. Stone hopes to add potter wheels and wet clay in the future. For now she can fire 10 to 12 pieces at a time, but a large kiln is on order with a capacity to fire up to 30 pieces.

While the store is open 50 hours a week, Stone is there 60, spending time on marketing, brochures and public relations, painting samples, firing and glazing, cleaning floors and calling in orders.

So far her clientele has been female ” girlfriends, grandmothers and granddaughters, mothers and daughters. She said it usually takes at least three attempts before confidence builds and people actually like what they have created. She admits, during her youth, she suffered because she didn’t color inside the lines. She says too many people give up on their creative side early in life.

When people characterize something as a craft rather than art, Stone says, it’s easier for them to lose their inhibitions and give it a try.

“I want them to step out of the fifth grade mentality,” she said. “This kind of crosses the line. They need to think it’s a craft, then they realize it’s kind of a different canvas for art that’s not as threatening.”

Her shop is open in the evenings making it a perfect retreat for those who want to go out with friends. “I wanted people to be able to get out of the house without going to a movie and just sitting there,” said Stone. Food and beverages are welcome. Every Thursday evening from 5 to 9 p.m. is “Girl’s Night Out.”

She caters to groups, too, and will do birthday and business parties. Kids 5 and up are encouraged to come with their dads and make a ceramic coffee mug for Mother’s Day.

For little ones, there are handprints and footprints to make. This summer she would like to have children’s summer camps and workshops for adults with local potter demonstrations. She also wants to display Nevada County artist’s work on her walls.

“I know there is this divide between art and craft,” she said, “but it all leads people to appreciate other art.”

The average cost for a project is $20. The cost is the price of the pottery plus $5 for studio time. Items range from $3 magnets to $40 ceramic bags.

A grand opening celebration is being planned for June.

Sgraffito is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and located at 135 Joerschke Dr. in the BriarPatch parking lot.


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