Sunday, December 05, 2010

I've been busy

By the looks of it, it has been over a year since I have posted to my blog. The longer I stay away, the harder it is to get back into it. I am just going to dive right in and write about what I have been doing. I have been creating a studio space to work in. The remodeling of the studio is nearly done. It is a ceramic arts center based on the "Open Studio" concept. This is how it happened.

I took a few courses in ceramics at St Louis Community College and really liked working with clay. The studios there are nice and you can't beat the deal but there is a limit to what one can do in that arrangement. I decided to get my own studio. First requirement: it had to be close to where I live. Second requirement: Large enough to share space. I did not want to work in isolation. This requirement also meant others should feel safe and comfortable coming there. I found a 1960's firehouse for sale in Overland, MO. It was bigger than what I was looking for but my wife, Colleen, looked at it and said "It would be perfect". Besides, a little to much space is better than not quite enough.
I had met artist/Realtor Sheldon Johnson at the Contemporary's Open studios tour. He became my Realtor and did an excellent job. The offer was contingent upon approval of the City for my plans. This took several months.

The first thing they wanted was the name of the business. We tossed around hundreds and finally Colleen came up with "LampLight Studio". I really like this name. Has a nice "ring" to it and fresh enough I could get the domain name for it. Although it doesn't directly connect to ceramics, it signifies an earlier time when pottery was a very important part of life.
Overland has been very helpful throughout the entire process. I would also like to mention how much I like the people of Overland. They are, for the most part, blue collar working class real. This is my background and the way I would like to think of myself if I ever had a job.

Getting financing was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. The Great Recession had just started and the entire financial system was on the brink of collapse. All of the banks were quite skiddish. It is an unconventional business with few operating examples. I had no experience. I created a business plan but didn't have "the numbers". Nine banks turned me down. Regions Bank approved the loan based on an old fashion principal, collateral.

I did a lot of the restoration work myself. Repairs, patching, painting, new floors. New parking lot. Since we back to residential, I put in a new privacy fence. John Schnellman answered my post on Criticalmass and helped me build six large work tables. He now uses the studio to do his ceramics work in.The main pottery studio has 14 foot ceilings. I put in lots of shelves. I partitioned off a kiln room with 14 foot high walls. I set up the glaze room with donated counter tops and built the spray booth made from the showers that I wrecked out of the shower rooms. A small kitchen space was added. Overland provided a good source of help in the local workforce. A lot of handy people live around there.

Since this was a fire house, it had a special emergency wiring system. There were special switches that one could press and every light in the building would turn on, buzzers would sound and the engine room doors would open. This was no longer needed and a bit of a mess. It all had to be cleaned up and new wiring added. Found an excellent electrician, Electrical Concepts, to upgrade the power to 600 amps for the new kilns and pottery wheels. Added air conditioning.

Had trouble getting an estimate for the needed plumbing work: new ADA bathroom and 4 new sinks. We had to tear into the floor to add this. Plumbers would come, laugh and leave. Finally, a local company, Sutter Plumbing, did the work. The owner, Stan Zorosky, is active in the city and knew this studio would be good for Overland.

Getting an estimate for installation of the kilns was also hard. It didn't make sense. In the middle of the Great Recession and I couldn't get a bid. Thomas Brothers Heating did a fine job.
I have six kilns. The large Geil kiln was shipped from California. It cost almost as much to have it unloaded as it did to ship it. I built the little outside soda kiln myself. I had trouble finding plans but Kruger had some in a book and gave me a copy. Building this kiln was a lot of work.

Everything is looking pretty good now but there is still plenty to do. I have to add more shelving to the pottery studio and storage for the glass in the glass studio. There is also outside work to do. We are going to remove the huge overhead doors and frame in the front. The eves need new paint. Gotta put up a sign.

I have been lucky in the process in that nothing went terribly wrong. We had a Grand opening in May with good friends, family, and even a few artists.

I am now in the process of building the business. Getting it up and running is as much work as building it. We just hosted a Girl Scout studio Christmas party. What a fun way to make ends meet. We have two new members with impressive degrees from Alfred and Kansas City. Greg Rasmussen is our new associate. His throwing skills will match anyone in the area. I am moving slowly as I work out the bugs and test the systems. It is also nice to finally have a little time to work on my own art work again.