Janice Strawder knew from a young age that she wanted a career where she worked with her hands.
For a couple of years in the ’70s, she worked as a certified auto mechanic. That qualified, sort of, but it wasn’t quite right.
So Strawder left her home in Kansas to study art at Louisana State University in Baton Rouge. Two decades of art residencies and teaching gigs later, she’s arrived in Manayunk, where she’s just opened a new pottery studio.
To find it, go to Sharp Street and peek inside an old embroidery factory. You’ll find a busy portrait of art in action: wooden tables dotted with rolling pins, texturing tools and bags of clay, shelves chock-a-block with newly finished vases, mugs, bowls and plates.
Tuesday was the the first day of classes at Manayunk Pottery.
“I’m glad this day is finally here,” Strawder said with a sigh. “It’s been a lot of work and I go home tired, but I love every minute of it.”
Strawder proudly pointed to fresh paint, to windows that once were boarded up but now open onto the world, and to the three kilns she and her students will use to dry and harden materials.
Strawder was up until 2 a.m. the night before, preparing for the first day of classes. She says it’s all part of her transition from teacher to business owner.
“Ultimately, you have to deliver and I’m up for the challenge,” Strawder said.
Manayunk Pottery offers five-week classes in creative handbuilding, tile making, pinching and pit firing and wheel pottery. Kids classes, open studio time for seniors groups, and community sampling events – they are all part of Strawder’s plans. But for now, she is taking things slowly, trying to ignite passion for pottery one clay clump at a time.
Strawder envisions the studio as a future neighborhood hangout and meeting spot for local residents.
“It’s kind of a destination place and I feel like a studio like this will help to ground the neighborhood and community,” Strawder said.
Lisa Lynn of Malvern, who followed Strawder from her previous studio in Wayne, attended the first handbuilding class in the new studio.
“It’s just good fun,” Lynn said. “To take a ball of dirt and potentially make it into something beautiful, I don’t think there’s anything better.”
Lynn is one of the many suburbanites who keeps tabs on what’s happening in Manayunk, visiting the arts festival every summer. She says the new studio seems to go hand in hand with the neighborhood’s mission to encourage the arts.
“Manayunk has that sort of creative vibe about it that I think really works for this studio,” Lynn said.
Manayunk Pottery is located at 3741 Sharp St. and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Class prices range from $18 to $165. For more information, contact Janice Strawder at firstname.lastname@example.org.