Pottery is having a moment in San Francisco.
Ten years ago, clay-working was a niche pursuit. It had its aficionados, of course, and the city’s few studios did see s brisk traffic of artists and amateur sculptors come through their doors — but until recently, few would have considered pottery studios to be a go-to place after work.
By anyone’s account, clay-working and pottery are experiencing a popularity boom in San Francisco. Ten new studios have taken root since just 2011, bringing the city’s count to over 16 distinct clay-working spaces. But even this seeming saturation of options may not be enough to serve the city’s burgeoning demand for clay-working opportunities. One of the city’s longest-running pottery workshops, Ruby’s Clay Studio, has a five-plus-year waitlist for memberships and a six-month waitlist for one of the studio’s three-hour class sessions.
Why is there a sudden, intense interest in clay-working? There are a few reasons.
Clay Brings People Together
Clay-working is an inherently social activity that compels experienced and newbie ceramists alike to take a breather from fast-paced city life, slow down, and chat with the person one workbench over. As Marnia Johnston, a director for one of the more prominent studios in the city, recently commented for Curbed, “The culture of ceramics is all about a shared environment […] This social aspect is ingrained in what we do.”
In part, the social component Johnston describes stems from necessity. The pursuit requires expensive equipment, copious amounts of costly clay, and labor-intensive prep work like mixing glaze. A successful studio needs artists to “buy-in” and share space — otherwise, it could never stay afloat. However, ceramists don’t come together solely for the cost-sharing imperative; they also flock together for the opportunity to learn from each other, to engage in conversation and social bonding in a setting that feels safe, supportive, and connective.
In an article for Hoodline, Linda Fahey, a ceramics workspace owner in the city, describes the clay-working experience as almost a form of “artistic yoga;” a class that everyone can access and enjoy for greater relaxation and well-being. Ceramics allows for growth and social engagement beyond work in a way that going to the gym or a coffee shop might not. The peaceful, connective culture Fahey describes could be particularly attractive to those who want to make friendships or take part in an artistically-oriented community but don’t know where to start.
However, while ceramic’s value as a social experience is one of the factors driving its fast-paced expansion in San Francisco, it certainly is not the only one.
Better Equipment Allows for Studio Versatility
Clay-working equipment is no longer as expensive or unwieldy as it once was. Gas kilns — a necessity only a decade ago — require a great deal of space, fuel, and permits that are all but impossible to obtain in today’s San Francisco. However, since smaller electric “home models” hit the market, aspiring studio owners could set up their workshops in smaller spaces and even traditional retail storefronts. However, this isn’t to say that a working space can exist anywhere — not when even the most austere of ceramics shops require sprawling table surfacers, slab rollers, deep-basined sinks, damp cabinets, and copious amounts of storage shelving. However, changes in equipment have certainly made it easier (and cheaper!) to build and maintain ceramics studios.
Finding a Pottery Studio That Suits Your Needs
Not all ceramics workspaces are the same. Some studios offer beginner’s courses and monthly memberships, while others cater to more experienced ceramics or artists who simply need a place to work. Explore San Francisco to find a studio that suits your needs!